SUCCESS PHILOSOPHIES WITH DR. CHUBACK: EPISODE 38

In our quest to assist writers in becoming the best they can be and remain motivated, we would like to introduce you to John Chuback, M.D. A cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Chuback found his goals waylaid by his lack of motivation.

In a series of interviews with Paul W. Reeves, host on Impact Radio USA, Dr. Chuback continues his discussion of the tools leading to success with his book “Make Your Own Damn Cheese: Understanding, Navigating, and Mastering the 3 Mazes of Success.”

Please click on the link below to hear Episode #38 of SUCCESS PHILOSOPHIES WITH DR. CHUBACK, the first episode in the second series, and start enhancing your journey toward success today.

DR. JOHN CHUBACK, a cardiovascular surgeon from New Jersey, is the author of, “Make Your Own Damn Cheese: Understanding, Navigating, and Mastering the 3 Mazes of Success,” “The Straight A Handbook – The 50 Most Powerful Secrets For Ultimate Success In And Out Of The Classroom” and other books.

DR. CHUBACK joins HOST PAUL W. REEVES weekly to discuss his books, “The Straight A Handbook – The 50 Most Powerful Secrets For Ultimate Success In And Out Of The Classroom” and “Make Your Own Damn Cheese, “each of which explores the human mind and becoming all that you can be.

Throughout this portion of the series, Dr. Chuback will discuss “Make Your Own Damn Cheese“, and the research behind his success philosophies.

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Audiobooks on Audible

The Straight a Handbook: The 50 Most Powerful Secrets for Ultimate Success in and Out of the Classroom Audible Logo Audible Audiobook – Unabridged

Written by John Chuback, M. D.
Narrated by Paul W. Reeves, Ed. D.

Click for Audible version on Amazon

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Previous Episodes of “Success Philosophies With Dr. Chuback”

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Dr. John Chuback

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Dr. John Chuback was born and raised in Bergen County and graduated from the Dwight Englewood School. He earned his medical degree from New Jersey Medical School at UMDNJ, in Newark. Dr. Chuback then completed a five-year General Surgical Residency at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC). Dr. Chuback is the author of Make Your Own Damn CheeseKaboing, and The Straight A Handbook.

All books are available on Amazon. com. 

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Impact Radio USA

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Welcome to ​IMPACT RADIO USA, where we strive to provide the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Our goal is to keep you as the most informed and entertained Internet Radio audience.

As we are continuing to add content on a daily basis, please feel free to click on the “LISTEN NOW” button at the top of the page to hear us 24 hours a day. While you are here, please check out all of our links to our shows, our podcast page, our blog, and learn how YOU can host your own show with us.  Thank you for listening to IMPACT RADIO USA!!!

Impact Radio USA ListenNow

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Paul W. Reeves 

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Paul W. Reeves, Ed. D. is an author, radio talk show host, educator, composer/arranger, and professional musician.

Listen to “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Impact Radio USA and visit Paul’s websitehttps://paulwreeves.comfor more information on his books and CDs.

https://www.impactradiousa.com

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Lisa Criss Griffin: The Page Turn

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

The Page Turn

 Lisa Criss Griffin

The specialist’s office felt cold. Not just the temperature of the room, but the minimalist design, along with the monotone color palette, created a stark, impersonal atmosphere. Perhaps that was what the group of these prominent physicians intended in order to keep themselves from getting too attached to their patients. They saw the worst of the worst cases here … the desperate, the despondent, and the cautiously hopeful.

Roman fell into the latter category. He shifted in the uncomfortable chair, his palms sweaty despite the temperature in the room. He didn’t want to be here. The other doctors had given him no hope, no answers. He was a young man with an enormous gift. The greatest joy in his life was on the line today. The weight of this appointment was almost too much to bear. Roman swiped at the unwanted tears stinging his eyes, determined not to let his imagination run wild. Counting slowly in his mind, he steadied his breathing to calm himself.

The door to the room opened with an almost imperceptible creak, as if protesting the dreaded conversation about to take place. The specialist walked in, a laptop clasped to his side. The man sat behind his desk and opened his computer. The stoic physician glanced up at Roman as he tapped on the keyboard.

“Good afternoon, Mr … um … Mr. Roman.”

“No. Mr. Roman Tyree.”

“Oh, of course. I apologize, Mr. Tyree.”

Roman’s faith in the specialist wavered slightly. Dr. Gargon was reputed to be one of the best in this field, but his demeanor reminded Roman of an impenetrable stone. Cold, hard, and capable of delivering a lot of damage. Roman rubbed the clammy sweat of his palms on his khakis, waiting in agonized silence as the doctor reviewed the latest results of his tests. Finally, Dr. Gargon sighed, leaned back in his padded chair, and folded his arms across his chest. His bleak, emotionless eyes met his patient’s anxious gaze.

“I am terribly sorry, Mr. Ro … erm … Tyree. It is my medical opinion you are extremely fortunate to be alive, but … the residual effects of the virus have permanently affected your vocal chords. You will never be able to sing professionally again.”

A bolt of shock buffeted Roman’s body as he panicked.

“Are you sure, Doctor Gargon? Completely sure?!”

“I am sorry. There is nothing more we can do. The pulmonary function test and the condition of your vocal chords revealed during the endoscopy make it very unlikely you will ever recover your singing voice or your musical range.”

The physician stood and closed his laptop, signaling the consultation was over.

“I will have my office staff send your medical test results along with my opinion to your family doctor, Mr. Roman. Good afternoon.”

Roman Tyree was unaware of the door closing behind the physician. He was attempting to grapple with the enormous bomb the man had just dropped on his life. Singing was his innermost expression of his soul, as well as his career! Yes, he was great at composing and arranging, but to never be able to express his deepest emotions with his singing voice again …? Ever?

The parking lot was empty. Roman could not recall leaving the medical building. He had no idea how long he had been standing alone in the deserted lot. He was both numb and angry. A set of yellow lights flashed as he pressed the smooth button on his key-fob. Why was it parked so far away? Maybe it just seemed that way since it was the lone vehicle left in the lot.

The bout of temporary amnesia bothered Roman more than he wanted to admit. Perhaps it was his way of dealing with the destruction of his primary reason for getting up in the morning. He wondered if he would ever be excited to be alive again. The leather of the steering wheel was unforgiving, but cool against his forehead. A sob escaped from his soul, then another, and another. Muted wailing filled the barren parking lot. The sound triggered the area dogs, who howled forlornly in a chorus of sorrow along with the devastated musician.

Roman slammed his fist against the dashboard, instantly regretting the impulse. The pain jerked him back into the present. He flexed his hand and fingers, relieved nothing felt broken. He sure didn’t need a broken hand on top of everything else. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to play the piano or organ with broken fingers. He sighed shakily, put on his seatbelt, and headed home.

Two hard shell suitcases placed by the door were the first things to greet Roman as he entered the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Amberlee. They had suffered through the ravages of the virus together over the last two years. Thankfully, she fared much better than he had. He unconsciously rubbed his sore hand.

“Amberlee? I’m home. What’s going on? Why are your suitcases in the front hallway?”

Amberlee strode into the living room. Tendrils of dark, disheveled hair framed her blotchy, red face. Tears filled her eyes as she walked slowly towards Roman. His battered heart contracted, skipping a beat.

“What is wrong, honey? What is going on?”

“I can’t … I can’t do this anymore, Roman.”

“What??”

“I’m sorry. I’m not emotionally able to live like this anymore. The uncertainty … the worrying … constantly trying to hope when there may be no hope. I need some space. I need to regroup for my own sanity. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t you even want to know what the specialist said today?”

“No! I don’t have to ask. I’m pretty sure I know what he said just by looking at you. I can’t ride this emotional roller coaster anymore. I wish you well, Roman. I just can’t do this anymore. Please let me by.”

Roman slowly sidestepped, allowing her to pass. He remained motionless as the door closed behind her, listening to the sound of her high heels clicking down the hallway. He barely heard the elevator ding, signaling the end of his life as he knew it.

A flash of intense rage shot through his entire being. He picked up something from the table behind him, hurling it against the door violently. His satisfaction in the solid thunk followed by a shattering sound was short lived.

Shaking with uncontrollable anger, Roman entered the kitchen in search of hard liquor. He rarely drank. He unceremoniously added vodka to refill a half-empty carton of orange juice and headed to his bedroom. The darker passages of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, particularly the Lacrimosa, matched his mood perfectly. He reclined on his bed, propped up by the multiple pillows Amberlee had insisted on adding for decorative purposes. The hauntingly dark, rich, ominous music looped over and over until he finally passed out, the empty juice carton slowly slipping from his fingers onto the hardwood floor unnoticed.

Three days later, intense knocking on his front door reverberated through the apartment. Roman rolled out of his fetal position, surprised he could hear the pounding on the door over the inane blare of his TV. He ran his hand through his disheveled hair, stopping long enough to glance in the mirror on his way to the door.

“I’m coming! Stop beating the door down, dammit!”

The face peering back at him from the mirror was almost unrecognizable. The dark stubble, bloodshot eyes, and wild hair should be enough to drive anyone away. He was okay with that. Roman knew it was out of character for him since he was usually a gregarious person, but frankly, he didn’t care anymore.

“Roman! Open up, man. It’s Samuel. Come on, buddy. Open the door!”

Roman reluctantly slid a reddened eye up to the peephole. It was Samuel, his longtime friend and one of the few people who he knew truly cared about him. He cursed under his breath as he fumbled with the lock. Glass crunched under his slippers as he cracked the door open.

“Dang, dude! You look like hell.”

“Yep, that sounds about right.”

“Let me in, Roman. I want to talk with you.”

“Why? I have nothing to offer. Haven’t you heard? My life is over … finished. Fee-nay.”

“No, it isn’t. Let me in, my friend. You need a true friend right now.”

“Well, that would be refreshing. Okay, man, but watch your step. I forgot about the broken glass here by the door. I haven’t done much housekeeping lately. It isn’t pretty in here.”

The brassy sound of the door chain scraping as it unlatched grated in Roman’s ears. The deadbolt clicked, and he hesitantly opened the door. Samuel slipped in before Roman could change his mind.

“Daaaaamn. Isn’t this one of your Dove awards, shattered here on the floor?”

“I guess. I’m not sure. I just picked up something and heaved it against the door after Amberlee walked out on me.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, man. I know that had to hurt.”

“Not as much as that asshole of a specialist who said I would never be able to sing again professionally. I still can’t wrap my head around the cold way he casually destroyed my life.”

“Docs aren’t always right. They think they are, but they don’t have the final say. Would you be open to trying some unorthodox things to recover your musical voice?”

“Awww, man! What the hell is left? I’ve done everything … I mean everything!”

“Everything the doctors recommended. But think about this. You are a naturally gifted musician. Who gave you the gift of singing?”

“I’m not sure what you are asking me.”

“Okay. Who made you? Who instilled your innate gift of music within you? Something you were born with?”

“Well, God, of course.”

Roman shifted uncomfortably. He was mad at God right now. God could have prevented this.

“Exactly. Whoa. Hear me out… hear me out. Come play the pipe organ at the cathedral for a while. Sing or don’t sing. Come for the healing of being in His presence … just for a little while … or for as long as you want.”

“I don’t know, man. I haven’t been to a church in a long time. I’m pretty pissed off at God right now anyway.”

“Why are you angry with God?”

“Oh hell, Samuel. My voice is toast.”

“Did God do that to you?”

“Well …”

“No, it wasn’t God, my friend. He is absolutely good to His children. That is not His desire for you. Deep down, you know He loves you. Remember? We knew this when we were little … before the evil that resides in this world began trying to choke it out of us. I’ll come pick you up tomorrow and we will go together. It will do you good to play the organ. You know it will.”

Roman met Samuel’s eyes, surprised by the sincerity radiating from his friend’s face.

“Yeah, okay. I don’t have anything better to do.”

“Good. Be ready at 5:00 pm sharp. It will be nice to hear you play again.”

***

The stone and polished wood architecture of the old cathedral felt comforting, returning Roman’s wounded spirit to a time when life was less complicated. He ran his fingers over the smooth ivory keys of the familiar pipe organ wistfully. It felt like stepping back in time when the joy of playing this tremendous instrument drew him like a bee to the sweetest honey on earth.

“Nobody could play this organ like you, Roman. It used to sing under your fingers and feet. What was your favorite musical piece to play?”

“Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, of course.”

“Well, well, well. Imagine that. Seems like we still have the music for that somewhere, my friend.”

“I won’t need the sheet music. It is still in my head.”

“Why am I not surprised? Go for it, man!”

Roman adjusted the stops on the familiar organ, a rush of excitement running through his mind as his fingers and feet took their positions on the immaculate instrument. He took a deep breath and pounced on the opening chords. The power of the majestic composition flowed through his being. He caught his breath as he began the intricate coordination between his fingers and feet. The magnificence of the lush music rumbled through the entire building, spilling out into the street as Samuel propped open the front doors.

The powerful organ sang mightily as Roman put his personal creativity into the phrasing. The intense emotion pouring from the depth of his soul wove throughout the musical melodies, driven home by the earthshaking lower registers coaxed from the foot pedals. He leaned his head back in ecstasy, a lone tear sliding slowly down his freshly shaven face. His eyes closed in the beauty of the moment, Roman played his heart out … loving every lush cadence, every countermelody, and the intense joy of still being able to make such explosively gorgeous music.

He knew at that moment his voice had not been silenced. He was a musical being. His ability to express himself was still present. Only death would silence his musical spirit, here on earth anyway. He couldn’t imagine how wonderful the music would be in heaven. He smiled as his fingers danced across the well-worn ivory keys. Music was his God-given gift. He had been foolish to think God would have deliberately snatched it away from him.

The final powerful chords reverberated through his soul. The healing of his heart had begun. Roman dropped his head in a silent prayer of gratitude as the last note echoed and faded away into the beautiful stonework and intricately carved wood sanctuary of the church.

The sound of rain pattering grew louder as Roman pulled his mind from the music and became more aware of his surroundings. The sun was shining. The pattering sound wasn’t rain. He looked up and turned around, immensely surprised.

The church was full of people who had streamed in off the streets, drawn by the magnificent sound of the organ reaching out and tugging at their heartstrings. The clapping intensified as he rose from the organ bench.

“Bravo! Bravo!”

He located Samuel leaning against a wall by the open front doors, clapping like mad. Out of habit, Roman acknowledged the enthusiastic audience with a nod.

“Encore! Encore!”

Surprised, Roman flexed his fingers, wondering what he could play next for this impromptu concert. He sat back down on the organ bench, still amazed by the enthusiastic crowd that had gathered. The sounds of pews creaking announced the willingness of the listeners to hear another piece. He selected another old favorite by Bach from his mental repertoire. Air on The G String was a slow passionate piece, full of luxuriant, reverent passages.

As he played, Roman realized his purpose wasn’t over. He still had something to offer, and that excited him. The evil things in this world meant for his destruction, instead blessed him in a way he had never considered. The end of his singing career had merely led to a completely unexpected page turn in the spectacular story of his life.

Copyright ©️ 2022 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved

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

Journeys II: Out of This World

Journeys II: Out of This World

https://amzn.to/3SK0zNn

(Stories by several WU! members are included in the collection.)

This Anniversary Edition of short stories and poetry has an All Star cast of writers that will take you on adventures that test your endurance and are certain to haunt your dreams! Join these twenty-nine talented and diverse authors for the “Journey of your life!”

Authors:
DAWN DEBRAAL, JACK MULCAHY, D. A. RATLIFF, DAVID BOWMORE, KERRI JESMER, TIM LAW, P.A. O’NEIL, MIKE TURNER, STEVE CARR, SHILOH OSHEEN, LADY C. E. MILLER, MADELEINE MCDONALD, DONNA MCCABE, BAIDHA FEROQ, LISA H. OWENS, GABRIELLA BALCOM, AMRITA VALAN, QUINN COOPER, JOHN DRUDGE, JIM BATES, A. L. PARADISO, SNIGDHA AGRAWAL, PUNEET KUMAR, SULTANA RAZA, T. E. SANDERS, C. L. STEELE, J. D. EDWARDS, NABEELA, and BINOD DAWADIA

Check out the first volume of the Journeys Anthologies:

Journeys: The Writers Journey Blog

Anita Wu: Lonely Night

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

Lonely Night

Anita Wu

She stood alone.

And she knew it.

It wasn’t the obvious darkness that presently surrounded her. It wasn’t the empty parking lot where she stood, an open space where no souls dared to wander and where no cars parked to shelter her from the oppressing silence and deafening chill. Where only white lines on the ground kept her company — lines that seemed to guide her where she should go yet guaranteed to lead her to a dead end.

No. It was something else.

It was the day when she handed in her art assignment: her lips all smiles as she stared at her masterpiece — the sketch that she spent weeks on — crafting and perfecting until the paint dried on her fingers and her room looked like a crime scene. Her eyes shone like the stars, like the portrait that she dared to attempt.

But the teacher screamed at her, his spit landing on her cheek, mixing with her own tears, as he slammed his fist on her work. “You dare call this art?”

Garbage.”

Yet he had told the class to experiment, to take all the techniques they had learned and to blend them into a melody that would represent them. She took the assignment to heart: drawing broken lines that individually meant nothing but together blending into what it meant to be alive — where each incident proved nothing, but a bit of each stayed with her and brought her to where she stood that day.

But her teacher drove home a lesson: it did not matter when someone told her she had freedom. She needed to fit into society’s accepted standards, into the perfected, fine lines that the world wanted to admire. If she dared to crack and show the scratches and mess that lay underneath, she, like her art, was not welcome.

It was also the day that her friends told her that they were going out for drinks but that they did not have an extra space in their car to take her. She knew they were four, and the car could hold five.

She gave them an alternative, believing they simply did not want to drive out of their way to pick her up. Besides, they lived in the same neighbourhood, and she lived 15 minutes away.

“No, don’t find your own way there. We are going far. It will be late.”

“Besides, don’t you have piano lessons tomorrow? You need to be sober for that.”

Those lessons were with one of the same friends who was being driven in the car — the same friend who did not utter a word during the entire conversation, silent, as though he were ashamed to publicly be on her side.

It was, again, the day when she lay in bed under the sheets, alone under the roof of the house. The tears tinged her eyes, and she kept wiping them away before they fell, believing that if it did not fall, she was keeping it together.

Her mother stayed at another man’s house that night, as she did all the other nights. She claimed it was her only way to bring food to the table and demanded that she be grateful.

Her father lived beneath the flashing bright lights of the gambling strip mall. He came home only to ravage the place for cash, throw his soiled days-old clothes onto the couch for her to clean, and shove food down his stomach before he left once more. If she did not know what exactly he did, then he could still be a decent father. Right?

No, it wasn’t the empty night that made her feel alone. It was the people who told her that they would be there by her side at the end of those white lines or the people who promised to cheer loudly on the sidelines as she followed those lines.

It was the people who yelled obscenities at her as she dragged her feet along, determined.

It was the people who wanted to see her fall.

How could she stand amongst so many people yet feel so alone in her heart?

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

Kenneth Lawson: Just Another Morning in LA

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

Just Another Morning in LA

Kenneth Lawson

Spanky Arnold was a nasty piece of work.

I’d run into him a couple of times, leaving me wanting to take a long hot shower. As a PI, I often dealt with the underbelly of the City of Angels. But Spanky was in a league of his own. The cops had been trying to put his ass in jail since the war ended several years ago.

It was my search for a missing witness that had brought me to a lonely parking lot in the early hours of the morning to meet an informant named Larry, who claimed to have info for me.

“So, you’re St. James, eh?”

I nodded at the small figure partially hidden in the shadow.

“Heard you were a Big Deal or something.”

“Something,” I agreed coldly.

The sounds of a distant train reached us, mixing with the sounds of an awakening city.

“You got the information?” I pushed.

“Cash?” I nodded, reaching into my trench coat but not taking my hand out just yet. It could quickly move from the stack of bills to my revolver.

The sister of a hooker Spanky had allegedly killed hired me to find her other sister, who had witnessed the killing. There were a couple of problems finding her. Spanky knew about her and was looking for her, and she was drunk most of the time. Her sister told me she’d been on a binge for the last week and was likely sleeping it off in some dump. I had a list of her usual flops, but all I’d gotten was a run-around. She’d been here, there, everywhere except where I was. Eventually, I found someone who had just seen her, but he was hiding from Spanky too. He cost me a C-note, which, if he were smart, he’d used to leave town that night.

For almost the entire week, I sensed someone was following me. I saw a familiar coat disappear into the darkness several times.

At two in the morning, the dim light from a broken chandelier that hung haphazardly in the lobby barely reached the floor and about halfway to the walls, bathing the space in eerie shadows. Stale beer, cigarette smoke, and other smells I cared not to think about stung my nose. The elevator was a do-it-yourself affair. Sliding the safety cage closed, I punched the button for the fourth floor and listened while the motors groaned and came to life, with the gears and pulleys working harder than they should. Somehow, it got me to the fourth floor without dropping me in a pile of steel and cable at the bottom of the shaft. The stench from the lobby followed me on the elevator. I tried to forget about it and keep on task. Room 403 was on the front side of the building. The door was old and weathered, the kind that could stop a shotgun pellet, but it’d never stop my thirty-eight. From the peppered plaster on the wall beside the door, I could tell it had already stopped some pellets in its day.

I put my ear to the door. All was quiet from the inside, so I tried the knob. It opened on my turn. Shit. She hadn’t bothered to lock the door.

I stepped to one side, slid my forty-five from its shoulder holster, and waited. Nothing. No shout of indignation or scream of passion, only silence. Shit.

Light from the streetlamps shone through the window. The blinking neon sign from the building across the street showed me all I needed to see—Debbie Malone passed out on the bed. Her slow regular breathing made her small breasts swell up and down as she slept. Occasionally she’d half snore or snort as she flung an arm to and fro. Other than that, she could have been dead—she might be soon.

Leaning against the door frame, I considered what to do. Leaving her here was tempting, but I’d spent a week trying to find her, and dodging Spanky’s boys was a chore. I knew what I had to do. Sighing heavily, I picked her up by the arms and managed to half haul and half walk her to the elevator. Balancing her between me and the wall, I opened the cage and maneuvered her into the elevator. Not sure which was worse, the stench wafting up the elevator shaft or from Malone, who I figured hadn’t had a shower in a few days.

Some days I hated this job.

She was a bit more awake but not very cooperative by the time I got her to the Packard and plopped her into the backseat. Slamming the door behind her, I hoped she didn’t puke on the backseat on the way to the bar.

Brenda met me at the back door. “You found her?”

I nodded, then kissed her hello. It took both of us to get her inside and into the room that we kept for such emergencies. It was comforting to be in the bar, a familiar, safe place. The feel of Brenda in my arms was equally comforting as I kissed her again.

I nursed a beer while I told her about meeting the man in the parking lot and the five twenties I’d given him for the location of Debbie Malone.

There was no point in trying to wake her up yet. One of us had to stay with her in case she woke up. I knew Brenda could handle her, but I volunteered to babysit her till morning. Brenda headed back to our place at three in the morning.

I got comfortable in my office, caught up on paperwork, and generally kept busy and awake in case she rose from the dead in the bunk room. At about five in the morning, there was a quiet knock on the back door. I opened it and let my best friend, who I had called, inside and secured the door behind him. I pointed to the sleeping lady lying in the bunk room, then headed into my office, and I updated him on how I found Debbie. He then told me what he knew.

The sun was peeking through the bar’s front windows when I heard noises coming from the back room. I stood in the doorway while she tried to sit and not fall back over. The smell of her booze and bodily fluid reached me several feet away from her. I saw the puke look coming on and quickly moved to the side, pointing her towards the bathroom. She passed me quickly.

I sipped my coffee while the sounds of Debbie trying to return to the human race echoed through the bar. My friend stayed hidden in my office since I’d conveniently left the door closed.

Eventually, she came out looking slightly better than she went in, but still not steady on her feet. The stench from a week’s worth of booze seeped from her at close range. I kept my distance and pointed her toward a chair at a table near the bar. I poured her a cup of coffee and slid into the chair across the table from her. I reached under the table, ensuring the shotgun I had placed there was within reach.

I pushed the coffee across the table, and she snarled. “Who the hell are you? And where am I?”

“And good morning to you too. I’m James St. James.”

“Who the hell is James St. James?”

“The PI your sister hired to find you and save your drunk ass before Spanky and his boys find you.”

“Mary? That goody-two-shoes? Tell her to go to hell.”

“Word is you saw him ice a dame last week. That dame was your other sister.”

“Yeah, so? I’m not talking.”

“You almost talked to the cops once already. That’s enough for Spanky, and you know it. He doesn’t like loose ends, especially drunk ones. Drink up.”

She sipped the coffee and looked at me over the top of the cup. I couldn’t tell if it was a good look or a get-dead look. I assumed it was a drop-dead look. Either way, it takes a lot more than a look by a half-drunk dame to do me in.

Debbie slouched, one arm on the table, the other slung over the back of the chair, the coffee cup in front of her. I didn’t offer food because I knew it wouldn’t stay down yet. But I was hungry.

Getting up, I headed for the kitchen. Came back a few minutes later with more coffee and toast. Resuming my seat across from her, I tried my toast.

“What, none for me?”

“Oh, you can have some when I think it’ll stay down. Meanwhile, sit and think about last week. What do you remember?” She played with her cup and sipped some more.

“Hell, I don’t know. I was pretty out of it.” I nodded for her to go on.

“Spanky and your sister?” I prompted.

“Yeah, that. He always had a couple of hookers with him. Stupid Cherri thought he loved her. Hell, I tried to tell her that he always had the bitches around. She was just the latest in the line, and he’d toss her like the rest of them. She got mad at me and told me to get lost.”

That was Spanky. Heard he liked to use and abuse the girls he pimped out, then left them on the street. “Tell me what happened to Cherri.”

“Yeah, right.” She slumped back into the chair. “It was down on Tenth street. One of those all-night diners, you know? I’d been working for Izzy Lee, and I was tired. Busy night, and I needed food. I didn’t know she’d be there. She just glared at me when I walked in. I just thought what a bratty bitch she was.”

I nodded, munching more toast.

“Some guy came in, headed right to Spanky, yelling that he owed him for the girls. They were his girls, and he wanted his cut off their take. Something like that, I was pretty far away, but I got the gist of it. You know Spanky.”

“Not personally.” But I knew the type.

“Next thing I see, he’s pulled his gun from that fancy leather holster and waved it at the girls. He swore and told the other guy that he would just as soon shoot them than pay him for them again. The next thing, I heard a loud crack that kinda echoed off the walls. I tried not to scream when I realized it was Cherri that dropped to the floor. The other gal was gone in a second.”

She took another slug of coffee. I noticed her hands shaking. “What then?”

“The other guy is looking down Spanky’s barrel, and I hauled ass out of there. The guy comes out, running down past me into the night, Spanky on his heels. Then Spanky sees me in the streetlight and realized I’d seen the whole thing, and I panicked. I managed to hide, but the cops came and found me hiding. Yeah, I almost told them Spanky did the girl. I didn’t tell them she was my sister…” Debbie’s voice tailed off.

“You ducked out when a cop got called away, and you’ve been running and drinking ever since then,” I finished. She nodded.

The front door rattled and then swung open. I grabbed the shogun from the table and pulled Debbie behind the bar next to me.

By now, the front door was hanging open, and Spanky Arnold, accompanied by two thugs, stood with the morning sun behind him, glaring at me with a shotgun in his hands. I leveled my shotgun at him. Neither of us said anything for a second.

“Spanky.”

“St. James.”

“You’re later than I figured.”

“Yeah, that idiot Larry wouldn’t talk for a while. But eventually, he told me about the hotel.”

“Is he still talking?”

“Hell, no, he’s feeding the fish in the bay right now.” Spanky grinned. “You did good, St. James. You found her when my guys couldn’t.” Spanky nodded towards Debbie and grinned.

“I figured it was one of your boys following me this week.” I wanted him to know I knew they were following me the whole time.

“So now you’re just going to kill her and let me go?”

“Hell no, I’m going to kill both of you.”

“I see you have to have help killing anything more than one woman.”

Spanky worked his way into the room with his two men now on either side of him.

“Why don’t we even the odds a bit there, Spanky?”

He looked at me, puzzled for a second. “Now, how could you even these odds?”

“Bob.”

My friend, Bob, stepped from behind the kitchen door into the bar, his gold shield hung from his jacket pocket, holding a shotgun.

“Spanky, meet my buddy, Detective Bob Crane,” I announced. “You heard him?”

“Yeah, we found Larry floating in the bay a little while ago. Somebody broke most of his bones.” Bob confirmed what Spanky had bragged.

Spanky aimed his shotgun at Debbie.

“You’ll be dead before she hits the floor,” I told him.

Spanky spun to his right and lunged at me. I stepped to my left and buried the barrel of my shotgun in his gut. At the same instant, Bob rushed the thugs and pushed them back against the far wall with his shogun.

“Let’s keep this fair.” Bob shifted around so he could see both the thugs and me.

Spanky doubled over, holding his stomach. He swung at me when he straightened up, his face red with anger and pain. I was too slow, and his fist caught me in the jaw, knocking me back against the bar. I felt warm blood trickle down my face from a cut above my left eye. The shotguns clattered on the floor as he regained his balance and shifted around to hit me again.

I stood up and was ready for him. I didn’t wait for him to lead. Stepping close, I could smell the stale beer on him as I buried my fist into his gut again. I followed with another fist to his face, connected with his jaw, and turned his head sideways as he fell against the chairs and table.

Something glinted in the sun. Spanky stood up, a switchblade in his hand, and pointed at me.

“I’m gonna cut your balls off and feed them to you.” He grinned manically.

I didn’t wait. I rushed him again and pushed the knife hand to the side while landing two more blows into his gut. Then I twisted his knife hand and twisted it hard to the opposite way it wanted to go, forcing him to drop the knife. At the same time, I pushed him away from me. We circled each other, the knife lying on the floor between us like a prize waiting for capture. I got close to it, but instead of reaching for it, I kicked it back under the bar out of reach.

By now, both of us were breathing hard. My eyes watered from the sweat and blood from the fall against the bar. My hands hurt, and my fingers stopped working after the first punch. I’d forgotten how hard it was to fight.

Spanky was slowing down a little, but I had to keep on him and not let him get his second wind.

He lunged at me, head down. I shifted to the side and caught his head in a headlock, holding him bent over. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I squeezed just enough so he couldn’t move. I released him and pushed him away. He dropped to the floor, half out of it.

I was panting and sweating. “Had enough?” 

Spanky shook his head no and started to get up. All my weight bore down on him as I kicked him in the face, breaking his jaw. I lunged on top of him and buried my fist into his gut again, then rolled him over and caught the handcuffs Bob tossed me. I snapped them on his wrists and stood up. My breathing was jagged as Bob moved around to cover everyone with his shotgun.

The LA police charged Spanky Arnold with the murders of Cherri and Larry and a host of other related charges. His thugs quickly started talking, backing up Debbie’s version of events.

Brenda and I decided to help Debbie start over again. We helped her get dried out and arranged for her to reunite with her sister, Mary. Hopefully, we got a murderer and a mixed-up gal off the streets.

Just another morning in LA. 

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

D. A. Ratliff: Night Visitor

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Night Visitor

D. A. Ratliff

There were moments when I regretted volunteering to monitor the experiments overnight. The bio-science building, bustling with techs during the day, became an eerie tomb at night. There might be a few people in the main building, but my lab was in the restricted area where government contracts fueled the research. Cue the men in black suits, lapel buttons, and sunglasses lurking in the dead of night. Not saying it was aliens—but it was aliens.

Maybe not aliens, but cutting-edge stem cell research, and if the tissues growing in the lab were any indication, definitely something out of a science fiction novel. I was a lowly post-doctorate hired to do research as further training. My job at night was to continue processing stem cells for the docs in the expensive lab coats (you know, the tailored, pressed, and unstained ones worn over a dress shirt and tie) to play with the next day. A gal has to start somewhere.

My shift, which lasted from eleven pm to five am when the early day shift arrived, suited me fine. I usually took a nap early evening, showered, grabbed dinner, and headed to the lab. Home by five-thirty, I ate breakfast and slept until nine. I lived next to the beach and would spend a couple of hours sunning and reading, then home or errands until I did it all over again. Boring, but hopefully worth it when I applied for a teaching position.

I arrived ten minutes early for my Thursday shift to find Dr. Elliot Rosenthal in the lab. He was the special projects director, and I admit he made me nervous. He pointed to a stool next to him, and I sat as ordered.

He began formally, as was his fashion. “Dr. Claire Winslow, we haven’t had a chance to chat lately. I was working late and decided to check in on you and to tell you that your work is exemplary.”

My hands trembled, and I stuck them in my lab coat pockets so he wouldn’t notice. “Thank you, Dr. Rosenthal. I appreciate that very much.”

He picked up my logbook, which contained the data collected from ongoing experiments and my notes. “Let’s take a look at these.”

We talked about the data for a while, and then he handed me a blank notebook and withdrew a small vial from his lab coat pocket. I recognized it as the vials we used to store stem cells. He handed it to me.

“Dr. Winslow, I have a very sensitive government project, and I need your assistance and cooperation. I would like you to process these cells as you do the others, but record your data in this notebook and on this program.” He handed me a flash drive, a blank notebook, and a ring binder procedure manual. “Label all specimens with the special code on this vial. You will be working out of room 457. A security officer will unlock the door when you arrive for your shift. You will press the red key to arm the lock and securely close the door when you leave. Answer no questions about this project—you will only discuss this with me. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. The security officer in the hall will escort you to the new lab. Please do not open the procedural manual until you are there. I will check on your progress in a few days.”

Without another word, he left, and the guard waited for me to gather my things and escorted me to the new lab, where I reviewed the project specs. A shiver of uneasiness crept up my spine as I read the unusual processes employed, offered as innovative approaches to developing stem cells into tissue for therapeutic application. Innovation was one thing, but some of these processes departed from proven scientific methods. Despite my concerns, I began to study the process thoroughly. After all, Rosenthal was the boss.

~~~

I closed the incubator door and leaned against it for a few seconds. I was tired. It had been five months since Dr. Rosenthal assigned me to this project, and I had taken only a few days off early on. Now for nearly seventy days straight, I had worked every evening, a schedule that taxed my energy and what little social life I had—past tense. My boyfriend of two years had bolted a month ago with a few choice words about my caring more about my work than him. In retrospect, I couldn’t argue with that. My best friend had taken a post-doc position on the east coast, and my nonexistent social life had become extinct with no family other than a cousin I had never met. In many ways, it was liberating, with no one to answer to but a very intimidating boss.

A ding from the coffee pot pulled me out of my funk, and I stopped leaning against the incubator and headed to pour a hot cup of coffee for support. I sat at my desk, my favorite spot in the lab because I could see the outside world. Not that there was much to see now. I had watched the construction of the university’s newest facility, a football stadium. Construction had become a twenty-four-hour effort as the fall semester loomed. Now only an empty stadium stood surrounded by a gigantic parking lot of fresh black asphalt. White-painted parking space stripes gleaming like neon under the full moon greeted me out the window.

I was about to sit down to record the night’s data when something caught my eye. A figure, appearing to be male, stood in the parking lot. He had not been there a second ago, and before I could register his presence, he was gone. I hesitated to say he ‘winked’ out but had no other explanation. Did I imagine that? I think so, but I found myself glancing at the parking lot for the remainder of the night.

Watching for the figure to reappear became an obsession, and he did three days later. This time long enough to turn toward the building. He lifted his arm, and a few seconds later, he was gone.

My breathing came in rapid and shallow bursts, and my knees bounced uncontrollably. He was there. I had to believe that. If I didn’t, I would have to admit I was hallucinating.

~~~

Over the next month, I saw the figure three more times. Each appearance brought him closer to the building. On the closest sighting, I could make out a large satchel hanging from his shoulder and, in his hand, a small device that he pointed toward the building. He was visible for no more than five seconds and then vanished.

Rapid footsteps echoed in the hall minutes later, along with shouts. I glanced at the door keypad and saw it blinking, meaning someone was accessing it. I hurried to a lab bench and pretended to work as two security personnel entered the lab.

Acting startled, I stood. “What are you doing in here? I have sensitive experiments underway. Please use the com to let me know you need access.”

The guard I knew as Jana, normally civil, only stared at me. Her voice was gruff. “Did you see anyone in the parking lot?”

I hoped she didn’t notice that adrenaline flushed through me. “No. Who was I supposed to see?”

“You saw no one in the parking lot?”

“I am working, and I’d like to continue.”

They left without another word. I trembled as I realized one thing—I wasn’t hallucinating.

~~~

The mystery of the man in the parking lot became secondary to me a few days later. He had not appeared for days, but aspects of the experimental processes I was being asked to perform continued to concern me.

The lab I worked out of was large, with a locked interior doorway along one wall. When I arrived, I was surprised to find the door slightly ajar. I assumed I wasn’t allowed in that room for a reason, but I knew work went on in my lab during the day. I pulled the door back ever so slightly and peeked into the room. It was dark, illuminated only by emergency exit lights and lights inside banks of enormous glass cases. I slipped into the room for a closer look. The cases contained many Petri dishes of varying sizes. My heart raced as I approached the larger of the dishes. They contained what appeared to be brain matter and a tiny beating heart, and a yolk sac.

I hurried back to my lab, carefully closing the door behind me, only relaxing when I heard the lock engage. I wandered to the window, wishing the man would appear. At the moment, despite the mystery surrounding the night visitor, he seemed more plausible than what I had just seen.

As I calmed a bit, I visualized the tissue in the dishes. Stem cells can develop into human tissue. I received my master’s in aspects of that process. That wasn’t what concerned me. The approach I was supposed to work on as a post-doc was to develop a more effective means of isolating stem cells from bone marrow. The new assignment Rosenthal gave me had nothing to do with separating cells but creating tissue. What concerned me was the nature of the tissue I saw in the other room. Human heart tissue wasn’t blue, and human brain matter wasn’t yellow. What were they growing?

Sleep didn’t come easy that morning. I catnapped and finally gave up, spending most of the morning researching the latest information on cloning and tissue. I found nothing regarding existing heart or brain tissue in the color I saw or anything that could cause tissue to turn those colors. What I saw stymied me.

Walking into the building that night, the increase in security was noticeable. Several uniformed security guards were in the lobby, highly visible where the suits with shades usually kept a low profile. I said good evening to the one stationed by the elevator. He acted as if I weren’t there.

I don’t think I took a breath until I closed my lab door behind me. My eyes immediately tracked to the doorway to the adjoining lab, and I shivered. I was either involved in innovative science or part of something—I simply didn’t know what.

Determined to stay focused, I dove into my work, aware of the open window at my back, wondering if the mysterious man would return. I was recording data a couple of hours later when the building’s alarm system activated—two short bursts of a claxon followed by a longer tone—signaling a warning to shelter in place. I wondered how anyone could get in with the security in the lobby.

Although my door locked automatically, my instinct was to check it anyway. As I neared the door, I heard yelling in the corridor. I unlocked the door and peeked through the crack to see the security guards with guns drawn, yelling at a man in the hallway—the man in the parking lot. As I started to shut the door, the man looked directly at me and vanished.

I pushed the door closed, but hairs stood up on my neck. I could hear breathing, but before I could react, a hand clamped over my mouth while an arm restrained me.

“Please, I’m not here to hurt you. You must believe me.” I nodded, and he let go of me and stepped away.

“Who are you?”

“I am Peter Damon. And you are Claire Winslow, doctor of bioengineering.”

“So, you know me, but I still don’t know who you are.”

“This will be tough to take in, but I’m from the future, one hundred and four years in the future. I came here to your time to save humanity in mine.”

My heart fluttered in my chest. Scared? Yes, I was, but I watched this man disappear several times. I needed to listen, but I could hear yelling in the hall.

“They’re searching for you. They’ll come in here. Can I meet you somewhere later?”

“Where?”

“Let me give you my address. Can you find it?”

He held up what looked like a transparent smartphone. “Downloaded your GPS.”

As soon as he had my address, he winked out none too soon. The guards were pounding on my door. I let them in, adopting my most innocent demeanor. The next couple of hours were nerve-racking as I waited to go home.

~~~

My fingers trembled as I unlocked my door. He was sitting on the couch. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked if he was hungry.

“I’m starving.”

“I made pizza yesterday. I’ll warm the leftovers up. While I do that, you talk. First, who are you, and how do you know me?” I took a beer from the refrigerator, opened it, and handed it to him.

“I am a bioengineer, like you, and work for the Consortium Science Department.”

“Consortium?”

“Things have changed, Dr. Winslow. I have to be blunt. Ten years ago, in your timeline, Earth was visited by an alien race. A not-so-benevolent race of humanoids, part of a scouting party, or so it was thought. Earth’s leaders felt they were a threat and executed them, conducted autopsies, and preserved tissue and blood specimens. Their DNA is a ninety-nine-point-seven percent match to ours. Minor differences exist, like hemocyanin carrying oxygen, making their blood green. It seems the human form is not unique to Earth.”

“That’s amazing, but what does it have to do with me.” I had an inkling of what it had to do with me, but I was afraid to think about it.

“We spent many years investigating what came next and discovered a group of globalists and scientists felt executing the aliens was the wrong way to establish relations, especially if there were more of their kind who might follow. The program you now work for is the secret program to accomplish two goals. To not only produce clones of the aliens but to create human-alien hybrids. They thought that if the aliens returned, the hybrids would be Earth’s salvation, a connection to the visitors, and they would spare us.”

“What happened?”

“The program was successful, producing clones that resulted in hybrids.”

“That’s amazing, quite a feat of bio-engineering.”

This man who claimed to be from the future locked eyes with me, and I shuddered from the intensity of his gaze. “You should know, Dr. Winslow. You made the breakthrough that allowed this to happen.”

“I did?”

“Yes, three years from now, you unlocked the genetic key that allowed the species to merge and reproduce.” He handed me the device I had seen him use earlier.

“What is this?” I held up the device.

“My phone.”

I stifled a laugh while he spoke. “Dr. Winslow data.” The screen displayed my photo and a story. I read it while he ate pizza.

When I finished, I saw he had eaten half of the pizza I had made. “Enjoy that?”

“Yes, very much.”

I was still processing the information about me that I had just read, so I asked him about something he had said earlier. “Why did you say, ‘or so it was thought,’ when you mentioned that they were a scouting party?”

“Because they weren’t.” He finished his beer. “They were the last of their kind—a handful of warriors from a race defeated in battle in their solar system. What we did was hand them the keys to world dominance. The hybrids enslaved us, and they are building spaceships to take them back to their solar system and engage in war. They’re a merciless race, and we must stop them. A group of us decided to steal their time travel device and travel to this time.”

“To stop us before we’re successful.”

“Yes.”

 “I saw you appear in the parking lot.”

“It took us a few tries to figure out what we were doing and exactly where we were.” He reached into the bag he carried, withdrawing a round device. “We do have a plan. This is a quantum bomb. It will destroy the lab and, unfortunately, the building. I need your help.”

My career was about to be blown up, and I had to decide if I believed this man. I did. 

“Let’s do this.”

~~~

To say that I was nervous was an understatement. I was petrified as I walked into the lab. I wasn’t expecting Dr. Rosenthal and another doctor on the project to be there. I fought to hide my emotions.

“Ah, Dr. Winslow. We stopped by to tell you how pleased we are with your work. Impeccable technique. Because of your exemplary work, I would like to ask you to attend a meeting with my senior staff tomorrow. We want to expand your role on the team.”

He shook my hand and walked toward the door, his aide following. I hurried after them and caught the door before it clicked shut. I was glad I did as Rosenthal stopped his companion.

“Someone is on to us. We need someone with Winslow’s skills if we have to move this project to our funder’s country. Checked her out—no family, no boyfriend. We can disappear with her with no questions asked, if necessary. Tell our contact we need those trucks ready if we must move out in a hurry.

I closed the door, my heart thudding in my chest. Peter was right. We had to destroy this project.

We decided to explode the bomb at four in the morning. The cleaning crews were gone by then, so there would be a limited number of souls in the building. We agreed to plant the bomb after I placed a phone call to security to tell them to evacuate and get far clear of the building.

At the prescribed time, Peter popped into the lab. “You ready?”

“Yes. I have all the data logs I have done in my bag. I’m going to tell security I’m leaving because I have to meet Rosenthal at noon, and I want to get some sleep first. They should believe that. Then I’ll make the call. Meet you in the parking lot?”

“I’ll be waiting where you first saw me.”

~~~

When I arrived at the deserted parking lot, for a moment, I feared Peter wasn’t going to show. Just as the security alarms in the building sounded, he popped in beside me.

“We have three minutes.”

“Are you sorry?”

“About what?”

“Losing all the advanced technology you have from the aliens.”

He smiled. “We hope we have that covered. Ever wonder why I have this huge bag with me?” I nodded. “Inside is the control unit for the time jump and crystal drives compatible with computers used before the aliens took over. The drives contain tech specs of the alien equipment. We think we should be able to access these drives. We hid several computers in public places and included the locations in the personal handwritten letters I also carry from the people involved in the rebellion to prove what happened. If we are lucky, we will come out of this with the alien tech, but no aliens.”

I watched people fleeing the building. “How about an eyewitness who can back your story up?”

Peter smiled. “I was going to ask if you wanted to come.”

“I would.”

“Good.” He placed an arm around me. “One condition, you remember how to make that pizza, right?”

“I do.”

As the building exploded, Peter pressed the display on his wristband. We disappeared, leaving a dark, deserted parking lot behind. I chuckled. It was aliens, after all.

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

Enzo Stephens: He Sweeps

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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He Sweeps

Enzo Stephens

A cold night
A dark night
An unforgiving wind
A merciless city
A vast expanse of fresh asphalt
Black on black
Crisp, white painted lines
Split the ebon of night and asphalt
And the man
With his broom
Pushing, sweeping
Endlessly
To cleanse the filth
Of the merciless city
Every night
Rain, shine, snow or calm
He sweeps
The push broom worn to nubs
Yet he sweeps
Cleansing filth
The filth of sin
That accumulates in the light of day
To be cleansed in the night
He sweeps
As he has done before it was paved
As he has done before it had packed dirt
As he has done beyond memory
Beyond time
He sweeps
The suns weaves light into the tapestry of night
His work for the night is almost complete
His sweeping comes to an end
Their sins are forgiven
Salvation is at hand
The asphalt is pristine
He faces east
And fades from the light
Until the next nightfall
When he will sweep again
 

 

Please visit Enzo on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011

Lynn Miclea: The Shed

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The Shed

Lynn Miclea

Jay breathed in the brisk, cool night air, and let it out slowly. “There’s nothing like going for a walk when it’s quiet and the air is so fresh.” He smiled at Lena and ran his hand across her back. “Isn’t it nice out tonight?” Even at midnight, going for a walk with her was relaxing.

Lena moaned in agreement. “I love it out here.”

Jay glanced at his watch. “Maybe we should start heading home.”

As they ambled down the sidewalk, a hooded figure quickly scurried out of a narrow alley between buildings and then raced down the block. The hooded figure glanced around, waving a knife in the air as he ran.

Jay grabbed Lena’s hand. “Let’s get out of here.” He pulled her away from where the man was headed.

Lena surveyed the area frantically. “Where can we go? It’s midnight. All the stores are closed. I don’t feel safe here anymore.”

“I know a shortcut through a parking lot. Come on.” Jay guided her around one of the closed shops. “This way.”

As they hurried through the black paved parking lot, Lena gasped as shouting cut through the air. “What is going on tonight?”

“I don’t know. It’s usually very quiet out here. I guess not tonight.” Jay glanced around the dark lot. “Let’s keep moving.”

“We’re too visible here. I don’t like this.”

“There’s a path at the back of the lot that goes through a small wooded area and comes out in a residential neighborhood. We’ll be safer there. And then we’ll be just a few blocks from home.”

Half-way across the parking lot, the sound of shouting grew closer. Turning toward the sound, Jay saw the hooded man chasing a terrified teenager across the lot.

Jay gestured toward them. “We have to help that guy.”

“What? No! It’s too dangerous. We need to go.”

“I can’t leave him like that.”

“But that man has a knife!”

Exasperated, Jay shook his head. “There’s three of us and one of him. We have to help that kid.” He took off toward the hooded figure. “Hey! Leave him alone!” he shouted at the hooded man.

The hooded man turned and glared at Jay. “You stay out of this. This is none of your business!” He turned to the terrified teenaged boy. “Patrick, if you can’t pay me, then you pay the price!”

“No, please,” Patrick pleaded. “I don’t have that kind of money on me.”

“Then I have a surprise for you!” The hooded figure waved the knife in the air. “It’s in that shed in the corner.”

“No! Leave me alone!” Patrick glanced at Jay. “Help me! Please!”

The hooded figure stared icily at Jay. “Stay back. This has nothing to do with you.” He looked back at the boy. “I promised to deliver one more human, and you’re it.”

The teenager froze and stared at the man. “What did you say?”

The hooded man laughed. “I have delivered two others this week. You are the last one. Then I’m done.”

“No!” Jay shouted at the man. “I can’t let you do this!”

The hooded man yelled at Jay. “You stay out of this, or you’re next!” He turned back to Patrick and pointed to the shed at the back corner of the lot. “In there, kid! It’s your turn!”

Jay rushed forward and raced around the hooded man and stood next to Patrick. Jay grabbed the teenager and pulled him closer, feeling the boy’s body tremble. “Stay with me.”

Lena joined them, and the three faced the hooded man who waved the knife in the air. “Give me back the boy. I have a debt to pay.”

“No!” Jay scowled at the hooded man. “What’s in that old shack back there, anyway?”

The man snickered. “That’s where I make my payments. Want to see it?” He gave an eerie laugh. “Maybe you could be the next payment instead of the kid.”

Goosebumps rose on Jay’s arms. “You’re not taking anyone there.”

“Wanna bet? I already delivered two people. This kid is the third. You have no say in this.” He jabbed the knife toward Jay. “I have to do this. Don’t get in my way.”

Jay stepped to the side and started circling around the man. Lena and the boy scooted apart, and the three surrounded the man who now frantically turned in a circle, trying to watch all of them at once.

When the man faced the teenager and took a step forward, Jay lunged from behind and grabbed the man, holding him tightly. The man struggled, and Jay tried to hold on. The man then stomped on Jay’s foot, and Jay’s grip loosened for a few seconds. The man began to wiggle free. Jay wrestled with the man for a few more minutes and they traded punches, scrambling closer to the shed as they scuffled.

Finally, his breath ragged, the hooded man stepped back and clenched his fist in the air. “You’d better be careful. I have explosives in my pocket, and I’m not afraid to use them. You’ll all be sorry.”

Jay noticed they were now only about ten feet from the small storage shack, and he quickly rushed forward and shoved the man hard toward the shed.

The man lost his balance and stumbled backward, getting within a few feet of the shack. He suddenly shrieked. “No, you don’t understand. I can’t go there empty handed. I can’t—”

A long, scaly claw suddenly reached out from the shed, twirled itself around the hooded man, and yanked him backward to the shack’s entrance.

“NOOOO,” the man frantically yelled as the knife fell from his hand. “I have someone else for you! I have the third person you requested! You don’t want me!” His voice became garbled as he was pulled into the shed.

The man disappeared into the darkness of the shed, and his screams filled the parking lot.

Shocked, Jay gasped, and the hairs on his neck stood up. He slowly stepped back.

Lena stood next to him. “What the—”

Patrick yelped. “What was that creature? That couldn’t be real …”

Jay glanced around the parking lot, making sure they were alone. “That was not from this world …”

Lena drew in a deep breath. “And the two other people he referred to — I wonder if those people are the two in the news this past week who have been listed as missing.”

“Very possible.” Jay took another few steps back and turned to Patrick. “Are you okay?”

The teenager nodded. “Yes. He didn’t hurt me.” He gulped loudly. “You saved my life, mister.”

“I’m glad we were here. And now we need to get out of here.”

As they started turning away, a strange rumbling sound filled the air. Quickly turning around, Jay inhaled sharply and stared at the shed.

A large bulbous creature with multiple scaly claws, grasping tightly to the limp, hooded man, was lifted up through a beam of light toward a hovering craft forty feet above them.

Jay stared at the craft, numb with shock. Where did that come from? Who were these creatures?

The creature and the hooded man disappeared through an opening in the craft, and the opening then quickly closed. The rumbling noise increased, and the craft began to glide away. A few seconds later, it exploded into numerous pieces, and debris rained down, multiple chunks crashing to the ground over a wide area.

Not saying another word, Jay, Lena, and Patrick stared into the sky where the craft had been.

Finally, Jay cleared his throat. “My guess is the explosives in that guy’s pocket were ignited, either accidentally or on purpose. Maybe he did a good thing at the end and killed them all.” He shook his head. “Either way, they are now gone.”

Lena nodded. “Should we tell the police what we’ve seen? They probably wouldn’t even believe us.”

Jay turned to her. “Well, it might help them solve the cases with the missing people, if that’s what happened to them.”

“We’ll sound like fools,” Lena said quietly.

“Maybe. But they will find the debris, which will corroborate our story. There will probably be a lot of evidence around, and all of that needs to be investigated.” He shook his head. “We need to do what’s right.”

Jay turned to Patrick. “How did this guy pick you? Do you know him?”

Patrick’s face flushed. “I belong to a UFO group. I just find all of that fascinating, and everyone there shares stories and theories.” He shrugged. “Anyway, that guy was in the group a few times, but he stood out. He never really fit in, and he gave me the creeps. Now I think he was checking us out to look for recruits for whatever that creature was.”

“Were the two missing people in that group too?”

Patrick thought for a few moments. “That’s very possible. Their pictures did look familiar, but I wasn’t sure from where. I’ll have to look at their pictures again. But that would make sense.”

Jay nodded. “We need to go to the police. This could be the information they need.”

Patrick glanced around the lot and smirked. “Well, I don’t think I’ll go back to that UFO group. After this close encounter, I think I’ve had enough.”

Lena chuckled. “I don’t think I even want to go to large parking lots again, especially at night.”

“I don’t blame either of you. And I think I’ll avoid storage sheds for a while, too.” Jay laughed. “But for now, let’s go to the police and get this resolved. They need to—”

Sirens blared in the street, cutting him off. As Jay turned toward the sound, two police vehicles pulled into the parking lot. Hesitating for a few moments, Jay watched as four cops jumped out of the vehicles and ran toward the shed.

Jay pulled Lena and Patrick farther back into the shadows of the parking lot. “Stay quiet for now,” he whispered.

One of the cops stared at the shed with the door hanging half-way off. “Hey,” he shouted. “What happened to our shed?”

“And where’s that guy with the hoodie?” asked another cop. “He said he’d be here.”

“Holy—!” the first cop yelled, looking inside the shed. “Our little friend is gone. What happened?”

Another cop chimed in. “Something’s not right here. Someone got into something where they didn’t belong. This is not good. And look — our guy’s knife is here, discarded on the ground.”

Jay urged Lena and Patrick farther back in the lot. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispered. “Follow me.” He led them from the back of the lot down the trail through the trees, and onto a residential street. “Okay,” he said to the two of them. “That ends going to the cops. We cannot mention this to anyone. Ever. Got it?”

Lena nodded, her face pale. “So the cops are in on it?”

Jay thought for a few moments before answering. “At least those four are. But we don’t know who we can trust. All I can say is, we need to keep our mouths shut. Okay?”

“Yes,” Lena and Patrick answered together.

Jay turned to Patrick. “Do you live near here? Can we walk you home?”

“No, I’m okay. I live just a few blocks from here. I’ll be fine.”

Movement got Jay’s attention, and he turned to the path they had recently followed. Looking through the wooded area, he noticed two of the cops putting up crime-scene tape around the back of the parking lot. Their voices filtered through the trees. Jay took a few steps closer to hear them better.

“The big ship was destroyed,” one of the cops said. “Did you see?”

“Yep. And I just heard from our other contact,” the other cop answered. “Our alien friend is missing from the second shed, too. It looks like they’re gone. All of them.”

“Then we’re free,” the first cop said. “We’re off the hook. We are finally rid of them and we’re released from that awful burden.”

“It’s about time. It was getting too difficult to keep up. Not to mention risky and horribly dangerous. And I’m not ashamed to say I was terrified. Now we can go back to working with the feds on this. Let’s get this area protected, and then we can contact them again, wrap this up, and finally get the case closed.”

Jay walked back to Lena and Patrick. “I guess it’s all over.”

Patrick gave a quick, nervous chuckle. “I’m still staying away from that UFO group.” He glanced at the cops and then looked back at Jay. “Well, I guess I’m gonna go now. Bye, guys. Thanks again.” He turned and ran down the street.

Jay grabbed Lena’s hand. “Are you okay?” She nodded, and Jay pursed his lips. “Come on, it’s time to go home.” They turned and headed down the residential street.

Lena’s voice was quiet. “Is it really over?”

“Yes, and I hope I never see anything like that again.” Jay shook his head. “And no more late nights out. I’m getting too old for this.”

—————————————–

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

Cheryl Ann Guido: The Importance of the MacGuffin

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Original image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MACGUFFIN

Cheryl Ann Guido

We all struggle with the progression of writing our stories sometimes. We get lost in the middle and write ourselves into a corner that seems impossible to get out of. Here is a tip I learned when I find myself in that frustrating predicament. I look to the MacGuffin.

What Is the MacGuffin? The short answer is; it is the reason for your story. It’s what drives your characters to do what they do. It can be something tangible like a treasure being sought or a quest for a character’s inner strength such as seeking redemption or a mystery to be solved. The MacGuffin is the heart of your story, no matter if your tale is a short story or a novel.

Each story, no matter the length, needs a beginning, a middle and an end, otherwise known as the resolution. The MacGuffin will guide you through these steps:

The beginning ~ introduce the MacGuffin

The middle ~ chase after the MacGuffin

The End ~ obtain the MacGuffin

Sometimes the MacGuffin is not so much of a ” what” as it is a “why”. For example, the briefcase in PULP FICTION passes from hand to hand throughout the movie. Characters open it and seem awed by its contents, but those contents are never revealed to the audience. So the actual MacGuffin, although a tangible object, served to connect the characters and drive the story. Discovering the contents was not the goal of the story. Instead, the MacGuffin caused the adventure.

There are many articles on how a MacGuffin can be used, and I believe that exploring those purposes will help all of us to use the MacGuffin as an essential tool for better storytelling. As you can see, if you break it down to how the MacGuffin influences the beginning, middle, and end, it’s really quite simple. 🙂

About the Author

Cheryl Ann Guido is a retired mother, grandmother, and animal lover. To date, she has published two books, The End in the Rainbow and The Golden Huntress Murder Unscripted. An article she wrote about a cat she rescued was also published in CATS Magazine. Several of her poems appeared in anthologies published by the National Library of Poetry. She has written several children’s short stories along with numerous serialized fanfiction stories as well as standalone and rhyming narrative poems that are posted on various websites. She also served as the writer/producer/director of an in-house movie for one of her previous employers. Cheryl’s love for the written word began at a very young age and she continues to be an individual who is not afraid to let her imagination fly free. Enjoy and visit Cheryl on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/cherylannguidoauthor

Cheryl Ann Guido: IT’S A THRALL WORLD AFTERALL

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

IT’S A THRALL WORLD AFTERALL

Cheryl Ann Guido

It had been a long day. As I walked toward my car in the empty parking lot, I mentally reviewed the day’s events. A kid got stuck in a railing outside one of the attractions, a fight broke out in a queue, a guest chewed me out because someone moved her stroller, and it took her all of five minutes to find it. Two children I had found wandering about had to be taken to Lost Children: a seven-year-old had been dropped off at one of the rides by his parents. who incorrectly assumed we were babysitters, and the big one, a lady fell on a moving belt while boarding a car on one of the attractions. As a result of the slip, she got stuck underneath the car. Thank God the ride operator saw it and immediately hit the emergency stop. It took half an hour for the paramedics to extract that guest, and I had to write up a detailed incident report.

That accident was the reason I was walking back to my car at two in the morning, an hour past park close. Such was my life as a theme park manager. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my work. In fact, many things I witnessed and took part in tugged at my heartstrings, bringing me indescribable joy almost every day—almost. Today was not one of them. As I proceeded to my car, I tried to cheer myself up thinking happy thoughts.

One of my favorite memories was of an early park opening shift one crisp Fall morning. I stood in front of one of the quick service restaurants when the rope dropped and watched as the crowd surged into the park and split up, all of them heading to the ride they wanted to ride first. One little guy who was only about eight years old booked toward the most popular fantasy ride in our section. Halfway there, he stopped, did a complete 360 and said, “I’m here.” It hit me that he had waited his whole little life just to be at this magical place. By that time, others had passed him by. But I knew he had to be the first to ride that morning so I went to him and told him I would personally take him to a secret entrance. It was actually the ride’s exit, but he didn’t know that and his little puffed-up chest was testament to the fact that he felt really special. We walked up the ramp and I announced his first name to everyone and that he was our honored guest of the day. All the other workers applauded as he boarded his car then waved at us with a smile as big as a Cheshire cat. It was always the joy and wonder in children’s eyes that I found fulfilling and made my heart sing.

When I reached my car, I was surprised to find someone leaning up against the door. He was tiny and in fact, looked like he had just stepped out of one of the ride scenes. I didn’t know if I should be scared or even if he was real. I decided that he must be a figment of my bone-tired imagination brought on by the events of that long, crazy day. I hit my remote and my door locks released.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

My eyes shifted from left to right. The little man had spoken. He was real. Now, I was worried but decided I would play along. That’s what I’ve always been told one should do when dealing with scary individuals who just may be kooks.

“Uh, home.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m not?”

“Nope, you’re coming with me.”

Now I was really worried. All sorts of visions raced through my mind. What was this guy up to, and why had he been waiting for me? The dire possibilities were terrifying; still, I decided to play along.

“Okay, where are we going?”

He grunted. “Today’s your lucky day, dearie. Today, you get to enjoy some magic.”

I tossed my head and rolled my eyes. “Hmpf.”

“That’s all you can say? Hmpf? I’m giving you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have all the fun those paying people have every day. You know, riding rides, eating lots of ice cream, wearing a crown and a frilly costume, all for free. You get it? Free. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

I realized that I desperately needed rescuing from this weirdo and glanced around the parking lot, looking for anyone who I could just run to for a minute but there was no one. The parking lot was empty except for the dwarf and me. Well, being a grown woman, I figured that I really didn’t need rescuing anyway so I decided to just suck it up and play along with the weirdness until I could make my escape. “Look buddy, I’m getting some really creepy Pinocchio vibes here. If I go with you, am I going to turn into a donkey or something?”

“What? No. That’s fairytale stuff.”

“Yeah, well, just look at you. You’re not exactly your everyday, run-of-the-mill kidnapper. You’re wearing short green pants, a brown shirt, and a floppy knit cap that quite frankly makes you look … Grumpy.”

“Jeez, no need to insult me. If you don’t want to go, dearie, then don’t go. I’ll find some other overworked employee in need of magical fun to take with me.” He started to walk away. Now that I had been released from my potential kidnapping, a sense of curiosity overwhelmed me.

“Wait.”

He stopped, turned around, and placed both of his little hands on his little hips, eyeing me expectantly.

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t go. I mean, you can’t blame me for being cautious, you know?”

He walked back, snapped his fingers, and suddenly, we were at the entrance to one of the rides. The park was deserted. Strange since usually workers cleaned overnight, but there were none in sight. He stood by my side as I looked up.

“Okay, this is the elephant ride. Why are we here?”

He grinned an impish grin that turned his eyes into impish slits above his impish nose. “You’ll see.”

We boarded an elephant. He waved both hands in the air, and we began to rise. Higher and higher we went, and I looked down, shocked to see that the elephant was no longer attached to the ride apparatus. But oddly, I wasn’t afraid. In fact, I became mesmerized by the twinkling stars shining in the clear black sky.

Our ride did not last long. In fact, shortly after we ascended, we began a descent that, for me, was a bit too fast. I gripped the bar in front of me as the elephant shot down, down, down until we arrived at our destination, an elephant ride in a theme park.

I turned toward him and tilted my head. “Cute. We’re right back where we started.”

Again, that impish grin on that impish face. “Not quite, dearie.”

As we disembarked, I noted that the lighting in the park seemed off. Everything around us basked in a deep orange glow. My companion clapped his hands gleefully. “Okay, first we’ll get you dressed.”

“Huh?”

“Well, you can’t be a princess without a gown and crown, dearie.”

We entered a costume shop where rows upon rows of gowns of all designs hung, waiting to make someone feel magical. The odd thing was, they were all black, no pinks, no blues, no greens or creams, just black dresses hanging row after row. He pulled one of them off of the rack. I looked at it and shook my head. “Look, Grumpy, that dress is for a child. Have you actually looked at me? I’m ever so much bigger than a ten-year-old.”

He waved his hand in front of my face. “Just take it into the dressing room and try it on.”

I shrugged my shoulders. Who was I to argue with an impish dwarf who kidnapped me from my place of employment and took me to my place of employment? I entered the dressing room and hung the gown on a hook, then turned and began to undress. When I turned back, my eyes opened wide. The dress had grown into a woman’s size! I slipped it on, turned toward the full-length mirror, and recoiled in horror. The dress had not grown into woman size, I had shrunk into … child size! Horrified at the image staring back at me, I hurried out to the store and confronted my captor.

“What the hell, Grumpy! What did you do to me? I’m ten years old again!”

Now that I was child-sized, I no longer towered over him. In fact, I was not much taller than the grinning imp. He grabbed a sparkling tiara, placed it on my head, then took a step back.

“Perfect. You know, dearie, you were a cute kid when you were ten.”

“Arrgh! Take me back, you wicked, pointy-eared …”

“Now, now. I know your mommy taught you manners. I’ll overlook that comment. It’s time to go on a ride.”

He snapped his fingers again, and I found myself atop a huge black wooden horse with blazing dark eyes and flaring nostrils. Glancing out of the corners of my eyes, I saw that all the horses on the carousel were painted black. What kind of nightmare theme park had I been transported to? My companion rode behind me in a black sleigh trimmed with gold. I wondered why he chose that instead of a horse but I could not ponder long because, in an instant, we were transported inside another attraction, a boat ride.

Our black-painted boat sailed inside of a building where dancing dolls dressed in black moved in time to a somewhat familiar tune. The tune, however, played in a minor key, giving it an ominous melody, and the dim lighting inside made the dolls appear sinister as their wooden hands flailed forward, almost touching us while we rode by. I don’t think I’ll ever get that creepy song out of my head.

We passed two black-colored goat animatronics whose heads bobbed up and down. They both turned toward us, staring sinisterly as we rode by. The dwarf saluted them. “Say hi to the goats, dearie. If you don’t, the boat will sink.”

I turned my head slowly and managed a weak smile. “Hi, goats.” I was starting to think that maybe I would have actually preferred being turned into a donkey as I wondered what my host had planned next.

I did not have to wait long. Another snap, and we stood in front of an ice cream stand. “How about a cone, dearie?”

From what I had seen of this place so far, I decided that I did not want to take a chance putting anything in my mouth. “No, thank you.”

“Ahh, a pretzel then?”

“No.”

“Perhaps, a turkey leg?”

I did not even want to imagine what one of those would look like in a black-themed place like this. “I’m not hungry. Can we just go back now?”

“Go back? Why dearie, the fun has just begun!”

Next, we took in a stage show entitled, Which Witch Switched the Pitch, an odd performance with witches on flying broomsticks playing stickball with skulls that looked a lot like Jack Skellington. For some reason, I just couldn’t relate. Afterward, I had a private character meet with the Villainous Queen, who apparently ran the show, literally.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, I found myself inside a candle-lit store surrounded by elvish clerks shoving their wares in my face. There were so many things to choose from, amulets and books with magic spells, gothic goblets. and candelabras lit by black candles, ingredients for potent potions, and more. My personal favorite was the cardboard standup of some caped red-eyed guy who looked a lot like Bela Lugosi. My companion, still sporting that impish grin, held up a magic wand in one hand and a spell book with the other. “Pick your poison.”

I chuckled. “Not today, Grumpy, not today. I don’t need any souvenirs to remind me of this weirdo place. I assure you I’ll never forget it.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “As you wish, dearie. On to the next.”

The next turned out to be the biggest roller coaster I had ever seen with twists and turns that looked impossible. I’m talking upside-down plunges that sank you into the depths of a pool even the Little Mermaid would fear. I eyeballed my host with daggers shooting from my irises.

“Two words, Grumpy. Not. Happening.”

Well, surprise, surprise, not did not mean not because there was that snap again and off we went, climbing a vertical ramp as steep and as fast as a rocket blast-off. We sailed over a curve, then plunged down so swiftly that I thought we would crash. I screamed, then I screamed again. Just when I thought my life would end, the car took a hard right and headed up again. By this time, my stomach was in my mouth. As we climbed, I felt the car turn and then the world was upside down, or rather, we were. We approached that knife-like plunge into dark waters, and I took a deep breath as the little man laughed, his belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly. Down, down we went as the water loomed nearer and nearer until …

I sat straight up and blinked. I shook my head, closed my eyes, opened them, and blinked again. It took a minute, but finally, I got my bearings. I was in my own home, in my own bed. Exhaling, I swung my feet over the side of the bed and chuckled. It had all just been a bad dream. Even though I didn’t remember anything after starting across the parking lot, I supposed that I had been able to drive home safely and tumble into my bed to have sleeping visions twisted into dark nightmares spawned by the trying times of my previous day.

I looked at the clock, almost seven. I was due for a mid-shift starting at eleven, so I decided to just get up and take my time getting ready for another day at the park. I showered, then opened my closet door to choose my outfit for the day. The first thing I saw was a ruffled long black gown hanging from a hanger and a sparkling jeweled tiara that sat on the shelf above it. Welp, so much for nightmares.

{{~..~}}

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