All posts by thecoastalquill

There is definitely salt water flowing in my veins. The sound of waves rolling across a sandy, shell-covered shore has echoed in my memories since I was very young. The ocean spurs my imagination and created my yearn to write. I don't always write about the southern US or the ocean but neither are ever far from my heart.

Lynn Miclea – “Window to the Future”

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

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( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

“Window to the Future”

by Lynn Miclea

Aliya brushed the hair out of her face as she walked up the grassy incline. She had wanted to climb to the top of the hill in her neighborhood and see the view for months now. Her breathing heavy and ragged from exertion, she was finally here. A shiver of anticipation ran through her as she neared the crest.

Looking up, her eyes opened wide and she stared at the view at the top of the hill. A ruin was there — part of one, anyway. Just the window was left from some unknown structure. It looked ancient and powerful and she felt drawn to it.

Although exhausted from her hike, and still breathing heavily, she moved toward it, her arms outstretched. Something about it felt awe inspiring and even personal. She needed to be closer to it.

The overwhelming power of the window washed over her as she got near enough to touch it. Tentatively, she reached a trembling hand to the stone. It felt warm and rough, and she placed her hand flat on the rock. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.

When she opened her eyes, the view through the ancient window had shifted. Her brow furrowed as she tried to comprehend what she was seeing. Through the window was a barren wasteland. The ground was parched and devoid of life. There were no trees, plants, birds, animals, or people. Just empty, scorched dirt — as though a huge fire or a war had blown through the area.

“What am I seeing?” she whispered to the window.

A voice in her head answered. You are seeing the future of Earth. Years from now, war and greed will have destroyed all life on the planet. However, this can be prevented. It is not too late. The one who can see this is the one who can change it and save the planet. We have been waiting a long for you to arrive.

Aliya looked around but saw no one. She looked back at the window. “Who are you?”

We are the gatekeepers of the world. We have been trying to save your planet, but we cannot do it alone.

“But … but I don’t know what to do. How can I save Earth?”

There is a piece missing in the wall surrounding the window. A vital piece that has come loose and fallen out. The missing piece that will save the planet.

“What piece? Where is it? How do I find it?”

It is a crystal that is vital to mankind. In fact, it is vital to all life on Earth. You must find it, plug it back into the wall, and close the loophole that has developed. That loophole created the wars, the greed, the hatred, the fighting, the emptiness, and the catastrophes that have befallen the planet.

“But how do I find this crystal?”

You will know where to look. It is in your possession. It needs to be placed in the wall before the window closes completely and disappears — then it will be too late.

“What kind of crystal?”

You will know it when you see it. You know where it is. Hurry. We are running out of time.

Aliya removed her hand from the wall and took a step back. Was she imagining everything she heard? How would she know what crystal or where it was?

She glanced at the window and the view was back to the way it was before. She could see the blue sky, a few clouds, and the other side of the hill. Her eyes followed a dirt path leading down the hill to a long stretch of beach which lined a huge dark blue ocean. It was hard to tear her eyes away from the view.

After a few minutes, she slowly turned and ran back the way she had come, going back to her home. An urgency gnawed at her, and she felt that the voice in her head was real. She had to help. But how?

Something pulled her to the closet in her bedroom. She wasn’t sure why, but she opened the closet door and immediately picked up a small wooden box from the floor. Treasures she had been given by her grandfather when he was still alive. She smiled, remembering the smell of sawdust and tools on him, and the jangling of keys that always hung from his belt.

Sitting on the side of her bed, she slowly opened the box. Folded papers, a marble, and a few coins greeted her eyes. And there on the side — what was that? A pink stone — rose quartz. A crystal of love. She didn’t remember seeing it there before. Did she simply forget about it?

The crystal began vibrating and emitting a low hum. She instantly knew. Deep inside, without a doubt — this was it. This was what was missing and what was needed.

She picked up the smooth, pink crystal and held it in her hand. It was cool to the touch, but it warmed up as it sat in her hand. She felt the vibration move through her. Goosebumps rose all over her body. She knew what she had to do.

She ran outside, down the street, through the field, and back to the grassy hill. She climbed up to where she was before. The stone window was there. She felt an urgency within her.

She approached the window and held up the rose quartz. “Is this it? Is this what was missing?”

Yes. That is the missing piece. The energies of love and compassion have been lost from humanity as mankind turned its back on this force. But this energy is vital for the survival of all life. Without it, the world and all life forms will perish. Time is running out.

“Where do I put this?”

Look for it. You will find it. You will know.

Aliya pulled her hair back and stepped closer to the window. She ran her hands over the rough stones. On the inside ledge on the left side, a gaping hole stared back at her. A deep black emptiness emanated from it. That must be it.

Trembling, she reached forward, her fingers shaking as they held the crystal. She inched it closer. A sudden flash of white light arced from the crystal into the black hole, and the rose quartz slid into place with a soft click.

“Is that what I was supposed to—”

The window vibrated, and she felt the rumbling through the ground under her feet. Bright light flashed through the window and her hand came up to shield her eyes.

After a few moments, a sense of peace settled around her and she opened her eyes and looked through the window. A vast field of pink and yellow flowers greeted her. A rabbit ran through, twitched its nose, and then hopped away. Tall trees shimmered in the distance, their lacy leaves dancing in a light breeze. Two birds sang as they flew past in the sky.

Aliya blinked. The window shimmered and shifted back to the original view. Blue sky, a few clouds, and the grassy hill on the other side.

She stared at the view for a few minutes. “Am I done?”

Yes. You were the only one who could do this. And time was closing fast. We thank you.

“But who are you? Can I see you?”

You will see us soon enough.

A flash of light burst through the window. The stones shimmered for a few moments and then collapsed into a heap. The window was gone. A small pile of old rocks sat in the grass where the window had been just moments before.

She stood there for a few more minutes.

“Are you still here?”

The only answer was the whisper of a breeze as it rustled the weeds at the top of the hill.

She turned and slowly made her way back down the hill and through the field toward her house.

As she approached the door to her home, the wind picked up, and the breezed turned into a whisper.

We are always here.

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Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Please also visit Lynn’s blog, like the story there, and follow her at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-oC

Please also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/

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Leah Pryor – “What Once Was”

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

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Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

“What Once Was”

By: Leah Pryor

If you walk along the river bend

until you see a tree,

That is hunched and bent

like an old worn hag

that’s sipping water from the spring,

Follow her long crooked hand if you can,

(It points to where I will be).

Up the mountain you’ll climb.

You must pass the reeds, oaks,

and pines,

until the woods have all cleared away.

With the forest behind you

and the sun in your eyes,

keep walking the uneven ground.

(Those humps, lumps, and mounds —

I’ve heard people say

are unmarked graves,

Though time has forgotten

the fallen men’s names.)

Up on the mountain

you’ll find a rubble of rock

and a window

that seems out of place.

For on this lonely mountain

a fortress once stood,

made of stone and strong wood

overlooking a small druid town.

The town is no more

But tales and folklore.

And the kingdom a wrinkle in time.

But the window still stands

Overlooking the land.

A reminder of what used to be.

A time and a place

That has been forgotten.

Misplaced.

In a world too busy to see.

That the stories of old

Are meant to be told

To be remembered

and honored

and preached.

So here I will stand

Overlooking the land

By a window

That stands by itself

A fortress of sorrow

With no hope in tomorrow

For its walls have

All fallen down.

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Please visit Leah on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/asentenceaday2019/

Larry Stephens – “Elle”

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

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“Elle”

by: Larry Stephens

It’s done. Over.

I really thought everything was fine. Good, in fact. Elle still smiled this morning as she graced me with that same smile every morning for the past fifteen years of…

Marital bliss?

But how could the marriage be blissful if the woman I loved more and more each and every waking minute just up and … left?

I’m so frigging confused!

And more than a little pissed off too.

But pissed off at whom? Her? Or me?

Damnit!

There she sat slurping boiling hot coffee in their little kitchen nook, looking out the bay window at the pre-dawn stillness that hovered over a small lake that crouched behind their cottage, and as I came down the steps and rounded the corner into the kitchen I was struck by her sheer beauty. All I could do was stare at her, maybe a little stunned that this outrageously beautiful creature was with me.

Me.

She was way out of my league and I knew it and maybe she just figured that out or something. Even her slurps were cute.

How screwed up is that? How screwed up am I? Co-dependent ass-hat; I am redefining personal suckitude.

The whole scene replayed in my mind for the eight-hundred seventy-seven thousandth time…

“Mitch, call off work today.”

“Why?”

“Because we have to talk.”

“About what?”

“Us.”

“Us?”

“Right.”

“What about us? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Mitch. I’m just … done.”

“Done?”

“I’m leaving you, Mitch.”

“What the f—?”

“Don’t get pissy about this, Mitch. I’ve taken care of everything. You can have the house and the car, and I’m taking Barney.”

Poof. Just like that. No reason for the end given. Nothing. Just the cottage the two of them picked out, falling in love with it instantly, then christening every room of the small two-bedroom with torrid passion.

That and a pretty sweet convertible they both loved. But the cherry on the top was taking Barney, a loveable, goofy golden retriever that likes me more than her, or so I thought. Maybe she was jealous of my relationship with the dog? OMG, how stupid is that?

I did call off work and I didn’t tell them when I’d be back. It seemed like someone else was inside my head making that call, and I honestly can’t remember much else I said, and I may have drooled down the front of my tee shirt too. I don’t even know if I hung the damned phone up.

I don’t care anymore. The two loves in my life are going, going, gone folks, and lemme tell ya, that was a real dinger there. It cleared the bases. Cannonball coming!

I left the house. Walking. Dazed. Stunned. No clue on where to go or what to do, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

What did I do wrong?

Did I take her for granted or something?

Maybe she’s pissed off about not having any kids.

But she SAID she didn’t want kids!

Oh God, I can’t take this anymore!

Walking. Seeing but not looking. Hearing but not listening. It may have rained a bit; it could have snowed for all I cared. I know I’m in the woods somewhere, but hell if I know where.

I feel … rage?

Maybe I’ll just stay out here, wandering around until I drop from starvation and then get munched on by coyotes and crows.

If Elle were here with me right now, I’d…

What?

Badger her to see if she’s really happy with her life? Smack her around a little bit?

Oh God, I’d never do that.

The woman just gutted me, navel to spine, and it’s a wound that may never heal.

Then…

A smell; faint, tickling my nose, gentle; smelling like…

Elle?

I followed that scent, suddenly aware of my surroundings; feet with a life all their own, leading me to a clearing that overlooked an abrupt cliff. A subtle fragrance danced and twirled within an oasis of fresh air and smelled of…

Elle…

Lavender.

There is no Elle, just the scent, and I found myself stepping into the clearing and moving toward the cliff, and perched right on the very edge of the cliff stood…

A window?

Like a window frame had been yanked out of some old gothic church or something and plopped right here and now on the edge of a chasm that overlooked a thick forest, hundreds of feet below.

Part of me wants to take a swan dive off that cliff; another part of me wants to just sit my butt down amid these ground-hugging flowers and go to sleep. Forever. And yet…

What is it about that weirdo window that makes me want to look through the panes that should be housing glass but is now housing nada nada empanada?

Elle … I love you and I totally hate you.

I stood in front of the weirdo window and looked through, expecting to see the same vista as before.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer lushness of the scene through the window; verdant green speckled with thriving flowers of indeterminate name; tall grasses wafting gently in a swaying breeze beneath cobalt skies.

Idyllic, and completely different from everything else around the window!

I rubbed my eyes, not believing what I saw; shut them nice and tight for a couple of seconds, then opened and looked through the window again, and the scene shifted.

A woman strolled along the plush moss and thick grass, completely naked and absolutely radiant. Carefree, hair gently tousled by the breezes, the scene through the window seemed to pan along with her as she strolled, seemingly without a purpose, and I immediately thought of … Elle!

I continued to watch, feeling like a peeping tom; some nasty kind of voyeur, but the woman ambled along, not seeing me at all. I distantly felt the ground beneath my butt and understood that yes, I did indeed have myself a little sit-down so I could watch the show.

The woman was indescribable in her beauty and she didn’t so much turn me on as she flat out took my breath away. Her motions and movements were beyond sexy, seemingly languid but smooth; flowing.

My jaw may have bounced off my shirt.

And then, entering the frame (window frame?) came a dude.

Not just a dude. The guy was stunningly beautiful in his own right, and it seemed perfectly natural that the two be together. He too was completely nude and oblivious to that factoid.

Hope it never gets cold wherever this place is.

The two walked together through the verdant land, touching each other softly, tenderly; smiles and chuckles drifting through the window to nibble at my ears. Tears may have been trickling down my cheeks as I watched them, remembering similar times with Elle.

They were fascinating to watch; they seemed like they were aliens, and yet, the very epitome of physical human perfection.

As they walked they entered a clearing that was dominated by a tree; the first tree I’d seen in my new career as a voyeur, but that tree…

It was old. Massive, with limbs stretching every which way, and pregnant with ripe fruits that seemed to weigh those limbs down, making the fruit easy picking. Low-hanging fruit.

Something about this seems … familiar. Like…

Biblical?

The woman looked toward her feet for a long while as the man ambled off to lie at the base of the tree, resting his back against its course bark.

She looked up and I saw confusion in her eyes.

She glanced at the tree, then at a specific branch, and then her gaze locked onto a particularly ripe and heavy piece of fruit, and then I knew and understood what this was, and as the woman reached for the fruit I found myself standing and shouting “NO! Don’t grab that fruit, Eve!”

But of course she did snag the fruit and she took a bite and her eyes lit up at what I can only guess was amazement at the wondrous flavor. And then she offered it to the dude, who I assume was Adam, and he chowed down on the thing.

The most expensive piece of fruit in the entire history of mankind.

Why did I see this? To see that there is no such thing as a good woman?

My bum met earth again and the subtle floral scent wasn’t so subtle or sweet. It hung around my nose like a cloud of pesky gnats.

I’m so confused. Maybe if I just close my eyes a bit, Elle’s leaving won’t hurt as much. But then I remembered the scene through the window and it took my fragile state of mind and crunched it in a sudden wash of depression.

I was back on my feet without realizing that I was back on my feet and then I was step step stepping toward the window, toward the Garden of Eden and then I was stepping through the window…

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Please visit Larry Stephens at https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011

E.C. Fisher – The Ravages of Time

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

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The Ravages of Time

by: E.C. Fisher

The dawn of the sun, the glow of dusk’s falling light

On a hill overlooking the valley

Through my window; the passage of time shines

The seasons pass; leaves turn green to brown and fall

Temperatures change from hot to cold; green grass to white snow

The ravages of time are not kind

My body weakens; youthful to old; I sit here and decay

The trees wilt; the sun rises and sets

The ravages of time are not kind

Life flows on; the light through my window wanes

The moon shines in the valley; high above the sparkle of the stars

Through my window it shines; the passage of time

A century beyond my age has passed; my window is left and only it remains

It overlooks the valley which has forgotten my presence

The seasons continue to pass; time rages on; beneath the green grass and white snow

The ravages of time are not kind

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Please visit E. C. on Facebook!

https://www.facebook.com/eric.fisher.14203 https://www.facebook.com/ECFisherAuthor/

Authors’ Words: Mark Twain

Mark Twain Biography

Born in Florida, Missouri in 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens would start a life that would be filled with great satire short stories. However, later in life he would go by his pseudonym, Mark Twain. A few years after his birth, he would move to Hannibal, MO. Like most boys his age, Twain was filled adventure and curiosity. He would wander through the woods and write down what he saw. After a while he started to work for his brother as a writer for one of his papers, Orion Clemens. He would then submit his first known writing to a Boston magazine. The piece was called Carpet-Bag.
Twain would then start to travel up down the Mississippi river, stopping here and there to submit writings to local newspapers while he is on his travels. In 1857, he would meet a man named Horace Bixby who was a riverboat captain. There Twain would be Bixby’s first mate for two years while they would travel down the Mississippi. Twain enjoyed this so much that he got his own pilot’s license. His adventures would come to an end when the Civil War was happening. Twain then decided to join the Confederate Army for a brief stint. After the war, he would move out to Nevada where is brother, Orion received a government job for helping Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for the presidency. While there, Twain didn’t get along with one of the other journalists and the other journalist wanted to resolve it through a duel, but Twain decided to flee to San Francisco to avoid legal conflictions. He would then travel along the western part of the country for a few years contributing stories such as The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. After that, he would get on a boat that would take him to Europe and the middle east. During this travel, he would compile and complete his book The Innocents Abroad.
Over the next years, he would do some more traveling and eventually end up living in Connecticut. During this time he would publish stories such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He would pass into the afterlife in 1910 at the age of 75. Heart disease was later named the cause of death. People raved at Twain’s writing when he was walking on this earth. Still today people can’t get enough of his writing. Twain is truly one of the great faces of American literature.

Resources:

https://celebratedjumpingfrog.wordpress.com/

Sean Bracken – The Princess of Essaouira

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

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The Princess of Essaouira

By Sean Bracken

The bus journey from Marrakesh had taken a little over three hours, so I stretched and took in a deep, fresh, salty breath of Atlantic sea air and eased the aches and pains I felt from sitting through one of the most uncomfortable trips I had ever experienced.

Sections of modern highway constantly gave way to longer stretches of dusty, rutted, unpaved roads. A never-ending scene of dry, arid scrubland passed as I gazed out through a dirty window, while trying to ignore the odour of a morbidly obese woman, whose massive rolls of fat flowed over the armrest separating us, half filling my seat.

The monotonous landscape passed by me, interrupted briefly by lonely subsistence farmers eking out an existence from the impoverished desert soil or herds of goats moving with the agility of monkeys through the branches of Argan trees, feasting on the succulent nuts, famous throughout the world for the health benefits of the oils they contain.

But here I was at last, in Essaouira, a town on the west coast of Morocco. I had journeyed here to meet up with an old friend from Ireland, Sylvia, and Mike, a new friend from Dallas, Texas. I had met Mike in Ecuador while backpacking through South America. Despite the fact that we were complete opposites, we had become firm friends. Mike, as old as the pyramids, a giant of a man, with a wild beard and even wilder hair, is an extreme Republican, a conspiracy theorist, an avid Trump supporter, and he has a frightening knowledge of guns. Whereas I, on the other hand, tend to be a pacifist and believe in civil and personal liberty. After Morocco, Mike and I were planning to travel together through Jordan, Israel and Egypt.

Sylvia? How to describe Sylvia. She is a spirit from the sixties, Scott McKenzie, flower power, San Francisco and weed. We both share a love of music, film, good books and travel. Like myself she is in her mid-sixties, fearless, full of adventure and living life to the full. I wondered how my two friends would get on with each other, probably hate at first sight, followed by pistols at dawn.

I retrieved my bags from the luggage compartment under the coach and, my tension relieved by the cool sea breeze and warm midday sun, I turned to take in my surroundings. The bus had deposited me half way down a beachfront promenade. On the beach, holiday makers were busy doing nothing, splayed out on sun loungers, perfecting a winter tan, before returning to the cold of Europe and Britain. Others enjoyed the sea, splashing, wading and swimming, while farther out, surfers guided their boards through the rollers in search of the perfect wave.

Up to my left, I could see tourists galloping on horseback through the ebb and flow of the tide. Less courageous souls were riding up and down the sand, nervously perched high up on the backs of camels, led by men dressed in black or brown robes with their faces hidden beneath peaked cowls.

Over to my right, in the distance, a fleet of blue and white fishing boats bobbed gently up and down, protected by ancient harbour walls. Flocks of seabirds swooped overhead hoping to scavenge bits and pieces of filleted fish, cast overboard from the trawlers into the water. All along the the beach, tall palm trees offered shade from the sun and shelter from the wind.

I turned my back to the beach, and with a backpack on my back and pulling a wheelie bag behind me, I ventured into the traffic of a four-lane highway separating rows of cafes and bars from the beach. It was like a real life game of Frogger as daredevil drivers zoomed past me at breakneck speeds. I reached the far side with shattered nerves, but otherwise fully intact and began to walk along, pausing now and then to read menus posted outside various restaurants. Ahmed’s Turf and Surf stood out from the rest and the menu looked good. It was the busiest establishment on the strip, which is always a good sign. A scent of fresh coffee and the sound of lively conversation filled the air. The tables were crowded with tourists drinking pints of frothy local lager.

A waiter quickly made room for me at a table being shared by three other men. I ordered a beef-and-egg tagine and a pint of beer. My order arrived promptly and the tagine proved to be delicious. Introductions were quickly made and I was made to feel welcome by my new friends. Two of them were English. The oldest was Jimmy, a seventy-year-old, retired drag queen, who spoke with an over-the-top, camp Scouser accent. Jimmy regaled us with stories of his life, working in The Hippodrome in London. He was covered in tattoos, with a snake sliding up his neck and a spider’s web on his bald head. His friend Jacob was as drunk as a skunk. He claimed to be a Manchester Jew, who after retiring from the British SAS had become a Mossad agent, working all over Europe for the Israelis. I noticed that if anyone pointed a phone or camera in his direction, he would either turn away or shield his face with his hands. The third man was much younger than his companions, perhaps late thirties or early forties. He was Nepalese and travelled the world, sourcing antiques and fine art for wealthy clients back home. His name was utterly unpronounceable. Jacob told me not to bother even trying, that everyone called him Tibetan Tim. Tim constantly pointed out that he came from Nepal, not Tibet, but no one seemed to listen.

I was thoroughly enjoying the afternoon and halfway through my third pint, when suddenly the skies darkened. Ominous black clouds rolled in from the ocean. The gentle breeze stiffened into a strong wind that quickly turned into a ferocious storm. Heavy rain pounded into the ground and thumped into the parasol over our table. Within moments the beach was deserted, save for a few camels, tethered securely with stout ropes. The beasts turned their backs to the elements in a vain attempt to find shelter from the stinging rain. The storm whipped up into such a frenzy that the palm trees were bent sideways under the onslaught. Massive forks of lightning crashed into the ground, followed immediately by deafening crashes of thunder. My friends and I joined the other customers in hasty retreat to the safety of the bar. Inside was dimly lit, all of the tables occupied by local men watching English football on big-screen televisions. I was told that it was too risky for them to be seen drinking in public, but that the police turned a blind eye, as long as they remained discreet.

The bar became jam packed with all of the customers from outside combined with people from the beach shoving and pushing their way in from the rain. Outside, huge waves crashed over the sea wall and flooded the main road. All of the traffic had disappeared. As the road vanished under the flood, I half expected to see Noah sail past in an Ark laden with animals. Such was the intensity of the storm — it seemed as if the Gods from ancient Greece had abandoned Mount Olympus and were waging war in the sky above us. The flashes of light and roars of thunder rolled into one continuous, frightening assault.

A few hours later, just as it had arrived, the storm died in an instant. The noise was replaced by silence and the torrential rain replaced by a fine drizzle. I said goodbye to my new friends, promising to see them all again tomorrow, and made my way outside into the North African night. In haste to escape the downpour, I’d left my bags outside. They were soaking wet and my backpack weighed twice as much as it had earlier. I pulled out my phone and loaded up Maps Me, my favourite app and entered the address for The Red Castle hostel. Maps Me led me through huge gates into the Medina, down the main shopping street, and then into a warren of narrow alleyways. Left, right, straight ahead, left again. There was little or no street lighting in these alleys and they were deserted except for cats prowling about, searching for prey. The walls seemed to press in on me in the darkness. As I passed a recessed doorway, I heard a faint whimper. At first I thought that it was just another cat, but there seemed to be something human about the cry. I switched on the torch in my phone and peered into the gloom. My light shone into the face of a young woman. She was clearly distressed and she cowered away from me. Kneeling down in front of her, I tried to assure her that I meant her no harm. Judging from her ragged clothes, unkempt dirty hair, and the grime on her face, streaked from the recent rains, I guessed that she was an outcast of some sort. No matter what she was, I couldn’t leave her abandoned like this and tried to persuade her that I would pay for a room for her to sleep in. She responded by pushing herself even deeper into the darkness. Nothing I could say would convince her to come with me. I had no choice but to leave her, and with a heavy heart, resumed my search for the hostel. Along the way I heard footsteps behind me and glanced back. There she was, walking about five paces behind. At last I spotted the bright neon sign for the Red Castle and entered into a small reception area. The woman followed me, but stopped at the doorway, too unsure of me to come in any farther.

The man behind the reception desk noticed her and began to curse at her in Arabic. The woman began to back away from the door. I interrupted the man and told him that I wanted to book a room for her.

“No sir,” he said. “This woman, she is unclean. She no stay here. Is impossible. Anyway, we are full up. All the dorms are booked tonight. Please sir, send her away.”

After much discussion and the exchange of three hundred Euro, the man, Joseph, relented and agreed that she could share my private double room. I beckoned to the woman and invited her in. She followed me and Joseph up a rickety staircase to the second floor and down a narrow corridor to a room at the end. The room was sparsely furnished with a double bed, a dresser, a wardrobe and a sofa. A door in the corner led to a small shower and toilet.

I asked Joseph to tell the woman that I would sleep on the sofa and that she could take the bed. She smiled at me in gratitude. Even though Joseph had extorted an extra three hundred Euro from me, he still hovered about, expecting a tip. Ten more Euro and he was gone, leaving me alone with this mysterious woman.

The woman sat down on the edge of the bed, still tense and wary. I slumped into the sofa, exhausted from the morning bus ride, too much beer, and the long walk from Ahmed’s Bar to the hostel.

“My name is Natasha. Thank you for your kindness.” She spoke with a husky, sultry east European or Russian accent.

“My pleasure Natasha. My name is John. John Chambers.”

Natasha smiled at me. Her smile was radiant. It lit up her entire face. She seemed much more relaxed and at ease with me.

“I would like to take a shower, Mr. John. Would you mind?” she asked.

“Go ahead, Natasha, be my guest. There should be some towels and toiletries in the bathroom.”

Natasha stood up from the bed and walked over to the bathroom. She moved with such grace and poise that I was amazed that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Moments later I could hear the sound of water running from the shower. I lay back and closed my eyes. Just as I was about to doze off, the water stopped and Natasha came back into the room. She was wrapped in a large bath robe, with her hair tied up in a towel. She removed the towel and let her hair fall down over her shoulders. It was ebony black, with an almost blue shine. She was transformed. The street grime washed away, revealed her natural beauty. High cheekbones, full red lips, and the deepest, darkest brown eyes I had ever seen. Her skin was a light alabaster colour. She was stunning to look at. Once again she gave me that warm seductive smile, and with a shrug, allowed her robe to fall to the floor. The sight of her naked, perfect body took my breath away. Speechless, I had no idea how to react. I was in my early sixties; she was half my age. Despite myself, I became aroused.

“Mr. John, go freshen up. You share my bed tonight. No need to sleep on that old sofa.”

I was in and out of the shower in seconds. Now fully awake, I climbed into the bed and lay beside her, unsure of what would happen next. Many Europeans are comfortable with their naked bodies; perhaps I was reading too much into this. I dared not touch her and turned on my side, facing away from her.

Lying in the dark, her husky voice washed over me.

“Mr. John, do you not want me? Am I not attractive? It is so long since I was with a man … please, hold me.”

I felt her arms wrap around me, her lips on my neck. I turned, more aroused than at any time in my life. I sank into her and we exploded into frenzied passion. Like wild animals, we clawed and tore at each other, biting and tearing. Giving pain, taking pain. And as the ferocity of our mating intensified, so did the pleasure. We rose together to unheard of heights of passion, and when it seemed we could go no further, we soared higher and higher, until at last, we shuddered into rapture and collapsed, utterly spent, drained and exhausted.

I slept fitfully that night. I had the strangest dreams, but when I woke, the dreams were gone and I couldn’t remember what they were. I snuggled into Natasha and kissed her shoulder. She responded to me. This time our lovemaking was gentle, slow and intimate. I fell back asleep, back to the strange dreams and once again the memory of them was gone when I awoke.

A glance at my watch brought me fully awake. I had texted Sylvia and Mike the night before, while Natasha was in the shower and had arranged to meet for lunch at Ahmed’s Bar. I wanted them to meet my new friends from yesterday and now I couldn’t wait for them to meet Natasha.

“No, Mister John, stay here with me. Make love to me again. We can meet your friends later.”

“Sorry, my sweet princess, I promised to meet them for lunch. I’m already late.”

“Okay, my love. You go to your friends. I will come later. Would you give my clothes to Joseph for cleaning? And when they come back, I will follow you. I know the Turf and Surf pub. I will sleep some more and meet you and your friends for dinner.”

I picked up Natasha’s clothes from the bathroom floor before leaving. The clothes were little more than rags and I dumped them in a bin outside the door. A young woman was busy cleaning the tile floor farther down. I approached her and asked if she could speak English. She could, so I offered her a few hundred Euro to go clothes shopping for Natasha. I gave her a generous fifty Euro for her time and gave her an estimate of Natasha’s size.

All five of my friends were waiting at tables outside Ahmed’s bar when I arrived, breathless from the long walk. Sylvia and Mike sat alone, while my friends from yesterday were sitting together at the same table we had shared yesterday. I waved to Sylvia and Mike and called them over to meet the others. I spent the afternoon talking about Natasha.

By the time she arrived, just after dark, I’m sure they must have been sick and tired of hearing her name. The moment Natasha approached our table the conversation stopped. The cleaning lady had excellent taste, and Natasha was dressed in an exquisite, hand-embroidered, crimson silk gown. It clung to her body like a second skin. The men were captivated and I could see a glint of envy in Sylvia’s eyes. Soon the conversation was back in full swing. Everyone found Natasha enchanting. I began to call her my Princess of Essaouira and she called me her knight in shining armour. After a delicious dinner, I excused myself to visit the men’s room, and Tim from Nepal followed me out.

As we approached the men’s toilet, Tim grabbed me by the elbow and steered me to a table hidden in a dark corner.

“John, I must talk to you. This woman, Natasha, is not good. She is beautiful, yes; she is young, maybe; she is enchanting, certainly. But John, she is wrong. I sense a dark spirit inside her. Something dangerous, hiding deep within her. She has no soul, John. You must leave her. She will destroy you, if you remain with her.”

“What on Earth are you talking about, Tim? Meeting Natasha is the best thing that ever happened to me. I only met her yesterday and I’m already in love with her. Are you mad? Leave her? If she’ll have me, I intend to marry her. I know that there’s a huge age gap, but I don’t care. I love her and that’s the end of it.”

“Please John, please be careful. She is not what she seems to be. Believe me. In Nepal, my father is a Shaman, a spirit guide. I have learnt many things from him. I can sense evil from this woman. I will say no more. You are a good man, John. Listen to my words. Be careful. Use caution.”

I could feel myself getting angry with Tim, and before things could get worse, I left him and continued into the men’s room.

The rest of the evening was wonderful, except for some gentle hints from Sylvia that this relationship was inappropriate. I put that down to petty jealousy and ignored her.

We all shared a final bottle of red wine before saying our good-nights and promising to meet again the next day. Natasha and I walked arm in arm, back to the Medina. Everything appeared more vibrant to me. The scent of spices stronger, colours more vibrant. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive, I felt complete. My heart pulsed with new energy. I was happy and content.

Rather than returning directly to our hostel, we explored the Medina. Even at night, it was busy with street vendors selling their wares, women grinding spices, donkeys laden with produce being led through the maze of narrow streets and alleys. At one point we passed a butcher’s shop, and when the smell of raw meat hit me it ignited a terrible hunger in me. It was frightening. I craved the taste of raw meat. I felt a lust for fresh blood.

Shaking with dread, I stopped and tried to compose myself. Natasha held me and leaned in to whisper in my ear.

“Don’t worry, my love. I have given you a gift, a precious gift. You will love me all the deeper, or you will curse me for what I have done. I will spend tonight with you for the last time, unless you love me. I am Countess Natasha Sicherov of Saint Petersburg. I will leave you tomorrow night. On this night in twelve months’ time, I will wait for you on the steps of the Imperial Palace in my home city. Come, let us return to our room and share our love, one last time.”

Confused, I allowed Natasha to lead me by the hand, back to the Red Castle. That night was wilder, more savage and depraved than I could ever have imagined. The next morning, Natasha was gone.

I cried, I wailed, I called her name. She was gone. I felt empty, hopeless, despairing. Filled with anguish, I forced myself to wash and dress. How could I explain my loss to my friends? How could I live without her? Despite my pain, I knew that I needed to be with my friends, so I left the hostel and headed back to the bar. It was a little after one in the afternoon, and the bright sun hurt my eyes; the heat irritated my skin. I couldn’t wait to get into the shade of a parasol. It felt as if I had a flu coming on. By the time I reached Ahmed’s I was exhausted.

Sylvia was sitting alone at our usual table. None of the others had arrived yet.

“My God, John, you look awful. Are you okay? What’s happened? You’re so pale, you must have picked up a bug.”

Before I could answer, the rest of my friends arrived. They all commented on how tired I looked. I passed it off to something I ate. As the day progressed, I became more and more lethargic and had little interest in talking. I explained that Natasha had left me. I left soon after dark and headed back to the hostel. Along the way, the same bloodlust I had experienced outside the butcher shop overwhelmed me. I followed a young woman down a dimly lit alley and at just the right moment, I pounced. I sank my teeth into her neck, ripping through flesh, until I tasted her blood. I sucked and drank with a feverish hunger, until finally sated, I fell to the ground, filled with self loathing and shame.

Now, I understood. I had accepted Natasha’s gift.

I am immortal. I am a monster. I have no soul.

Will I travel to Saint Petersburg? Do I love Natasha? Do I hate her? I don’t know. I am a creature of the night. I hunt.

The End

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Please visit Sean’s website for more of his writing. https://sean-bracken.site123.me/

Write the Story: March 2019 Collection







WRITE THE STORY: May 2019 PROMPT

(Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

Write the Story May 2019 Prompt

Here’s the plan:

You write a story of 3000 words or less (doesn’t matter, can be 50 words or a poem) and post it on the author site that you want to promote. Please edit these stories. We will do minor editing but if the story is not written well WU! reserves the right to reject publishing it.

Send the story and link to the site via Messenger to Deborah Ratliff. Put “Write the Story” in the first line of the message.

WU! will post your story on our blog and share across our platforms, FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. WU! will also add the story to the Write the Story page on our blog…where it be for all to read along with the other stories.

We do ask that you share the link to the WU! Write the Story page so that your followers can also read the works of your fellow writers.

The idea is to generate increased traffic for all. May take some time but it will happen if you participate. The other perk of this exercise is that you will also have a blog publishing credit for your work.

The May prompt is posted above. Write the story!

Periodically throughout the month, we will post the current prompt as a reminder.

DO NOT post your story to this prompt. The idea is to have your STORY or poem published on your site, the WU! blog and shared to gain followers for your writing. We will not accept a one- or two-line caption. For the most part, we are fiction writers and poets…. please write a story or poem, not a caption.

If you have any questions regarding this, you may ask the question in the comments.

Thank you.

(Please note: the images we will use as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

 

Erin Crocker – Things We Left

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

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Things We Left

By Erin Crocker

The toe boxes of Ellony Pickett’s scuffed Mary Janes kicked against one of the table’s wooden legs.

“Stop it!” Doris turned from the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink.

A reporter on TV shouted over the hurricane. “…evacuate last week. Residents of Eastern Florida—” A sudden whoosh of static drowned out the station.

When the channel cleared, Ellony kicked her feet harder to keep up with the bouts of wind. Her eyes widened when she noticed the trunk of a palm bending. Another whoosh interrupted the report.

Tap. Tap.

“Child, I said to stop.”

For the first time in hours, Ellony’s green eyes diverted to the woman with an unlit cigarette hanging between her thin lips, struggling to talk. “Stop what?” the little girl asked.

Doris flicked the spark wheel on her cheap BIC. “You know,” she mumbled.

“I don’t,” Ellony whined.

Swish. “…And reports are just in that the wind…” Swish. Swish. “…The count is down—” Swish. “And we’re expecting that…” Swish.

“Dammit, Charlie!” Doris called down the empty hallway. “Charlie!”

Ellony turned back to the TV and rested her chin on her knuckles before batting her eyes and holding them for a few seconds. She swung her legs, and her toes resumed the tap, tap, tap of kicking into the table’s leg.

“I asked you to stop!” Doris turned and creased her forehead.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Charlie, if you don’t get your ass in here—”

Tap.

“I’m comin’, woman.” The overweight man shuffled down the hall and pulled his jeans over the roll on his stomach. “What the hell you want?”

Ellony grimaced at the curly chest hair that lay in thick patches over his a-line undershirt.

“Get outside and fix the antenna.” Doris nodded to Ellony. “Little shit’s driving me crazy enough kicking those shoes into the cabinet. Now I gotta deal with static. Program’s about to come on and I ain’t going to miss it today. Get out there and fix the thing.”

Charlie turned the corner of his mouth up and shook his head as he shifted his tone to mimic Doris’. “Get out there and fix the thing.” He threw his shoulders back. “Woman, all I do ’round here is fix shit. Day’s Saturday. I ain’t doin’ shit.”

Doris threw her hands on her hips. “To hell you ain’t! Get out there and fix the damn antenna.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“And, woah. Did you get that?” The reporter motioned to a stuffed animal that whizzed by his head and disappeared among the rain and debris. “Did you see that?”

Whoosh.

“I said fix the damn thing!” Doris took another drag and sat the remainder of the cigarette in a saucer.

The sound of her mom slamming the cabinet door shut was little Ellony’s cue to exit. After the last confrontation, when the girl had stepped in front of Charlie who was stumbling toward her mother, hand balled into a fist, vying to strike Doris a third time and inflicting the punch on Ellony instead, she’d learned to stay away.

In the safety of her bedroom, she wrapped her seven-year-old arms around Isha and hugged the stuffed rabbit as though the ratty toy possessed the ability to protect her. Her thoughts turned back to the storm on the television; the beach looked nothing like all the beaches she’d seen in the adverts. To her little eyes, it looked like the reporter was standing in the middle of a nightmare. She hugged Isha tighter. It’s a shame some kid lost their stuffy.

Swish, Swish, Ellony used the remainder of baby fat that hadn’t yet left her cheeks to expand the air in her mouth into a sound she thought resembled the angry wind. Swish, Swish, Swish.

The storm became louder. Dishes whirled and flung against walls. Louder, a scream sounded from somewhere in the house. Darkness tiptoed into her room that, seconds ago, the sun had lit. Loose twigs tapped like bony fingers against her window.

Here’s my chance, the girl told herself before grabbing Isha and sneaking out the screen door. Once outside in the wind, she placed her fist in front of her mouth. “This is Ellony Pickett with channel nine weather. And this,” she nodded to Isha, “is my assistant. The winds are going really fast. Can you all hear that?” She turned her fist to the trees and looked to the hazy, green Midwestern sky.

***

“…Reports say it was an F-5 that tore through the Midwest yesterday evening—” Nevaeh turned in time to see the picture at the side of the screen showing the arm of a small child reaching for the floppy ear of a stuffed rabbit; debris and what Nevaeh thought to be wooden planks covered the rest of the child’s body.

The woman made a quick job of turning the television off. “What on earth do they show on TV anymore. I—”

“Mommy!” Terrell turned his focus from the TV to his mom’s worried expression.

“Finish your milk, baby. We gotta get going.” She rushed around, throwing a few more items into a duffel bag while she spoke. “…Pick up Daddy, and then we gotta beat the traffic.” Nevaeh paused and tossed her Havana twists behind her back. “Finished, little man?”

“Yeah.” Terrell held his empty glass up and his smile grew when he did. “Mommy, what’s an eff eye?”

“An ‘eff eye’?” Nevaeh turned and the TV caught her attention. She remembered the photos of the ravaged town … and the small child. “Okay, an F-5. It’s a tornado, a very bad storm.” She knew she didn’t have time to explain more. A horn from outside honked and a few shouts caught her attention. “Come on, baby. We have to leave … now.”

Terrell jumped from his seat and ran to Nevaeh who put a hand around his shoulder and tried to comfort her boy with a reassuring look and a quick hug. He pulled back. “Jo-Jo…”

Nevaeh’s heart fell through her stomach at the realization she’d forgotten the stuffed lamb. She knew they didn’t have time. The firefighters weren’t going to magically stop the wildfires, and traffic was getting worse. “Sweetie, we just can’t—”

“Jo-Jo smells like Pops.” He blinked those sweet brown eyes Nevaeh couldn’t tell him no.

“Stay right here.” She hurried to the stairs. “Don’t move. Mommy is going to find him, I promise.”

Her feet thudded up the staircase and she rushed to Terrell’s room. Nevaeh opened the door and her eyes scanned the boxes of toys that remained in bins in his closet. She bent and surveyed under his bed. Terrell was right; Pops, Nevaeh’s dad, had given Jo-Jo to Terrell days before the older man passed away. She had to find him. That’s right, she thought, Terrell crawled in bed with us … early this morning. She flew to her room and tossed the blankets around.

From outside, desperate honks sounded. She peeked out her bedroom window to see cars lined up at the four-way stop that served as the exit to her family’s subdivision. How much time did they have? Days? Hours? Minutes?

“Shit, Jo-Jo,” she whispered.

***

Terrell’s eyes gleamed when he saw his mommy run back downstairs carrying a tote.

“Okay, baby. I found him,” she said. “Now, we have to go. It’s going to be okay.”

Terrell wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, why they had to leave everything behind, but he was certain of three things; he had his mommy, his daddy, and somewhere in Mommy’s bag, was Jo-Jo, and Jo-Jo smelled like Pops.

The little boy smiled.

Terrell sat in silence and allowed Nevaeh to buckle him in his car seat.

***

A snapshot of Terrell and Pops fell from a burned box in the attic as hungry flames licked the siding of 105 Oceanview Drive. The photo landed next to Jo-Jo whose palm extended outward as though he lay, faithfully waiting for Terrell’s tiny hands to pull him to safety.

The lamb, who Terrell had left under the guestroom bed during a game of hide-and-seek stared at the bottom of the mattress with unknowing glass eyes as the frame of the house collapsed and the fire consumed his tiny plush body.

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Please visit Erin’s blog! http://bit.ly/2IM9SfM

Barbra Badger – Devil Wind

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

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DEVIL WIND

By Barbra Badger

‘Fremantle Doctor’ affects the city of Perth on the west coast of Australia and is one of the most consistent winds in the world.

Standing outside in a small Southern California town, two coworkers enjoyed the sunshine and a gentle breeze on their ten-minute break.

“I love the wind.” Charlotte released a long sigh. “Maybe it’s the way it tosses my hair and ruffles my clothes—playfully, like my grama used to do. Oh, how I miss her.”

Graham listened with a twinkle in his eye ’til she finished (a rarity among their circles). “I know a place in the south seas ‘twould cure you of that obsession.” He was shaking his head as he rolled a cigarette.

She loved his Aussie accent. That’s what charmed her to be his friend in a somewhat unfriendly place. Workers here were paid minimum wage $1.25 hour, except for the welders. The dissatisfaction running rampant made for lots of grumbling and scowling faces. Charlotte felt ‘safe’ with Graham. He was happily married and not much taller than her. (Another rarity—anywhere.) The near equal height made it easy for her to talk to him.

“What do you mean ‘cure’?”

He held the freshly-rolled cigarette tightly in his lips. “The wind never stops there. It brings hurricanes to a certain island every year. No one lives there, it’s impossible to keep materials from blowing away at any time. But hurricanes even remove everything that could be used for building shelter.”

The light that had gleamed from Charlotte’s face dimmed, her shoulders drooped a little. It was plain the joy she had felt from the spring breeze was gone.

Graham made note to take it easier when describing things to her. He thought she was tough. Watching her heft twenty-pound weights in and out of the test basket all day had given him the impression that she was hard shelled.

He didn’t know she had taken this job out of sheer desperation in survival mode. It was that condition which was the source of her strength. After all, she was only five-feet tall, weighed 100 lbs. with her work boots on; alone now after marriage, a long live-in situation and before getting the job—homeless.

Places in the world where the wind has a name, Santa Ana, N’oreaster, and many more; the people living there know what to expect and usually when to expect it and how to respond when it comes.

Not too many days after their conversation, another Australian swept through the side door. Charlotte looked up, their eyes locked. The magnetism was so strong and immediate for both of them, even at fifty feet apart, he lost his breath, and her knees buckled.

The Santa Anas began blowing that day. They have been known to tip overloaded semis, toss large dangerous objects onto the freeways, take shingles off roofs, and make thick clouds of sand obscure drivers’ views and pit windshields.

Graham was not impressed with his first experience of the Southern California wind, but he had a feeling something else dangerous was brewing.

Charlotte was carried on a wave of fear and delight for days while she and the new Aussie spent break times and lunch together in the field across the road. They talked, they laughed, she sang, he grinned. She was drowning in a sea of hormones.

Like the unannounced devil wind that spontaneously picks up four-foot-long 2x4s as it twirls across an empty lot, she was spinning in a fog when the hurricane hit with full force.

She discovered Hurricane Frank was married, too late.

Seen by Barbra Badger at 1:32 PM

Type a message…

Larry Stephens – I Won

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

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I Won

By Larry Stephens

Glen Hutchinson—Hutch, rolled his brawny shoulders and rotated his thick, corded wrists as he gazed absently at the bright orange sun peeking above the roiling Atlantic.

Hutch enjoyed mornings here in Wilmington, North Carolina, especially when September rolled around. The seas were always tumultuous and the air often thick and damp, and surprising thunderheads would spring up seemingly out of nowhere, signaling heavy storms were on their way.

A sparkling glass wall separated Hutch from the winds and the spray of the surf and the soggy, humid air; the east-facing wall of his huge house that contained all of two bedrooms and three bathrooms, one massive training room, and a couple of needful things, such as a kitchen. That was all Hutch needed, but oh that training room!

A variety of heavy bags, focus bags, speed bags; a boxing ring; throw dummies; weights galore, treadmills, stationary bikes, rowing machine; the array of equipment was dizzying, and it was where Hutch essentially spent most of his time.

Training. Turning himself into a weapon; a fierce force of lethal destruction and his obsession was relentless.

Although…

On this fine September morning, Hutch was annoyed.

A very close, underground ‘friend’ of Hutch’s forwarded a streamed mixed-martial-arts fight to Hutch late last night with a cryptic message of, “Ya gotta see this Hutch.”

Such a message was unusual, and so Hutch opened the stream on his tablet and watched the beginning of a match between what looked to be two heavyweights. At first, Hutch was bored, even dismissive.

Two younger guys, punks really, all tatted up with stupid-looking trunks and hair poking up all over the place, and one guy had a ridiculously long beard. As if. What kind of an idiot would get into a match sporting that nonsense?

The bell rang and the two squared off, then began exchanging; first light jabs and quick snap kicks to the opponent’s legs. Nothing serious or even worthy of Hutch’s time, and Hutch vowed to lay into his friend for wasting his time with this dreck.

But then things amped up between the two combatants. The bearded guy scored cleanly with a left cross then rushed in to swing wildly at the staggered opponent.

But it looked like the guy who was staggered was sandbagging, and as the bearded guy came in whaling away, the clean-shaven warrior delivered a wicked left hook, followed with a devastating right uppercut, snapping beard-boy’s head back like it was on a rope.

Beard-boy staggered back, reeling and then the sandbagger ripped off a spinning heel-hook kick to beard-boy’s temple that was so fast that Hutch completely missed seeing it at first. One second beard-boy was reeling; an eye-blink later sandbagger’s heel was slamming into beard-boy’s temple. The crunching sound of the blow told a grim story for beard-boy. Damn!

Hutch rewound then stepped the video forward, frame-by-frame, and even there, the sandbagger’s foot was a blur.

Hutch stopped the stream and snagged his phone, an eerie gleam in his eyes.

^^

The phone rang, incessant, demanding immediate attention; the Vincent Price laughing ringtone mocking and taunting Ben Schofield as he sat in his dumpy studio apartment with the blinds drawn on a sunny Pennsylvania morning. Ben ignored the damned phone.

The Fight replayed for the super-zillionth time in his head in slo-mo. Ben knew that he suckered his opponent in by faking a stagger, but again he chastised himself bitterly. The two punches were enough to finish the fight; the guy was out on his feet, eyes glazed, breath whistling through his open, gasping mouth. He was beaten, no doubt.

But that wasn’t good enough for Ben, no siree. He just had to follow up with that heel-hook kick, and he knew just as sure as Ben knew he’d won the fight, that he’d severely hurt the man. Hell, he felt his heel actually sink into the man’s head!

Ben was utterly shocked to discover that he’d killed the man.

His license was immediately suspended, so no more fighting, but that wasn’t the worst part of this nightmare. The worst part was that his opponent had a wife and two kids; toddlers, both boys, and Ben Schofield—in one swift and thoughtless move—wiped their daddy from the face of the living.

Depression swamped over Ben again and tears leaked silently from his burning eyes.

Vincent Price started laughing again and Ben vowed to get rid of that damned ringtone just as soon as he could get up enough energy to give a damn. He snared the phone from the coffee table in front of him and eyed the display. It read ‘Marky Mark’ and Ben thumbed ‘Decline.’

Marky Mark was his trainer and fight manager, but Ben had zero interest in talking to the smarmy asshat. The phone immediately piped to life in his hand and a nameless rage surged within Ben. He thumbed ‘Accept,’ then, “What?”

“Benny—”

“Don’t call me that, shitball.”

“Look Ben, tough break on that fight, huh?”

“Ya think?”

“C’mon dude, crap happens!”

“Mark,” Ben paused, heaving a deep, exhausted sigh. “Mark, I killed the guy.”

Mark’s usual ebullience was subdued. “I know—”

Ben was on the verge of breaking down and Mark was the last person Ben wanted to see that. Another sigh, then, “So what the hell am I supposed to do now?”

“No worries, Ben. We can get you licensed in another state—”

“No.”

“Nevada will license you.”

“No they won’t.”

“Well look, I maybe got some good news for you.”

“Do tell. The suspense is killing me.”

“Cheer up, Ben. This one’s a big payday!”

Ben paused, then, “‘One’? Another fight?”

“Listen Schofield, you take this one and you’ll be set for a few years to get up on your feet somewhere and make a life for yourself. That’s a lot more than most fighters your age.”

Ben thumbed the red icon and dropped the phone.

^^

“Come in. You’re Ben, right?”

“Yeah, and you’re freaking gorgeous.” Ben stepped through the double doors, eyeing the tall, slender blond with the painted-on micro-dress. “I never knew a woman who dressed like you’re dressed, unless they were a pro.”

She turned and smiled at Ben, her teeth gleaming. “I’m not a pro, Ben, and I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.”

Ben looked at his feet, suddenly uncomfortable. She pushed her hand out to him. “I’m Brenda. Brenda Hutchinson.”

Ben was surprised. “Missus Hutchinson?”

She laughed. “God no. I’m his sister. I can’t imagine anyone marrying that man. Come in, I’ll show you your room. Hungry, thirsty?”

“Don’t go to any bother, please. I hadn’t planned on staying. Water is fine.”

“Nonsense. You’ll need a place to rest after your travel and to get ready. Follow me, Ben.”

^^

Night had fallen over North Carolina, but the surf outside pounded and thundered, and jagged shards of searing light punched through the gloom. Ben could not sleep, not a wink. So he rose from his place on the floor beside the sumptuous bed, wearing sweat pants with no shoes or shirt, and stepped out into the massive training room. The owner of the place, Glen Hutchinson, still had not made his presence known.

The floor-to-ceiling glass wall facing east over the raucous ocean drew Ben to stand before it and gaze into the pitch that was punctuated by chaotic whitecaps. It was an awesome vista and Ben drank it in, thinking about how timeless and ageless is the sea, when he gradually became aware of another presence off to his right. Ben turned to see a middle-aged man, also shirtless and shoeless, staring at the ocean. A jagged split of lightning illuminated his craggy features and long, unkempt hair. He turned to face Ben and smiled. It seemed a genuine smile with warmth, and Ben liked it.

“It’s wondrous, don’t you think?”

Ben eyed him askance. “I don’t get to see stuff like this very often.”

“That’s because you’re stuck in the Appalachians. Binnacue, right?”

Ben studied the man—Glen Hutchinson. His bare torso looked as if it were chiseled from a block of iron; rippling cords of muscle stood out in relief across the man’s thick chest. His neck appeared to be an extension of his back; the jaw, set and square; receding hairline with gray at the temples. Ben guessed him to be in his mid-forties, but he could have been in his sixties just as easily. “Yeah, Binnacue, Pennsylvania.”

Ben turned to face Hutchinson. “Why don’t we cut the crap and you tell me why you dropped one-hundred large to get me here?”

“You’re a fighter—”

“Was a fighter.”

“No. It’s in your blood. You’re a fighter.”

“Yeah. So what?”

“I saw your last fight.”

Ben said nothing, glaring bullets at the man. “I saw what you did to your opponent.”

“I killed him. What about it?” he growled.

“It isn’t that you killed him, it’s how you killed him. I’ve never seen a kick move so—”

“Fuck off!” Ben turned away from the window and away from the lunatic that wanted to dredge up all the horrible memories.

Powerful fingers clutched Ben’s shoulder. “Hold on. Let me make you a proposal.”

Ben shook himself free. “What?”

“Let’s you and I fight.”

“What?”

Hutch dropped silently into a cross-legged seat on the floor. “We fight. You win, you get my estate. I win and…”

“And what?”

“That’s it! I win.”

Ben shook his head. “You’re out of your mind.”

“Sit with me for a minute.” Ben paused, staring at the man, shrugged, and then sat across from him. The two men stared at each other while the weather beyond the glass wall grew in intensity.

“Do you know me, Ben?”

“Why would I?”

“Exactly. Why would you? I’ve made it a point my entire life to stay out of the public eye.”

“So what?”

“I’m not bragging when I say this Ben: I’m the best hand-to-hand fighter in the world.”

Ben stared at Hutch for a beat, then two, then he laughed; a sharp bark of a laugh that was more derision than humor. “You really are nuts.”

Hutch stared at him. He stood abruptly, water flowing upwards. Ben stood as well. “My proposal is on the table. You have until tomorrow at this time to take it or leave. One more thing, Ben…”

“Lunatic!”

“It’s to the death.”

“You… what?”

“What do you say?”

Just then Brenda stepped into the room, clad only in a man’s dress shirt, and Ben saw her as inhumanly beautiful. “Glen, we should think about evacuating. The storm—”

“Forget the storm, Brenda.” She seemed to shrink within herself a bit at his retort, but yes, the storm outside was intensifying.

“I want her.” Brenda gasped.

Hutch stared at Ben. Then, “Okay. You win, you get Brenda and my estate. I’ll be dead anyway so who the hell cares. We go at this time tomorrow.”

“Let’s go now.” Ben began rolling his shoulders and other light stretching. Hutch immediately dropped into a left fighting stance, a gruesome smile planted on his face. He began circling Ben slowly, measuring each footstep.

“My attorney already has the proposal I made to you drafted and ready to go. You win and you get it all.”

Ben responded by lunging then backing immediately out of range. Hutch laughed. “Damn you’re quick boy.” A blast of thunder punctuated Hutch’s observation. The skies were beginning to go from pitch black to steel gray and the wind ballooned to a constant roar.

Hutch moved in, arms tucked in to his sides, hands up, palms out; classic Muay Thai, daring Ben to strike. The man’s shins were shiny with scar tissue and Ben knew to avoid those else he’d be clubbed senseless. Hutch jacked up his front knee and lunged; Ben slapped the knee and side-stepped. Hutch followed with a chop that was masked, but Ben saw it coming and ducked, sweeping his foot out to hook Hutch’s back leg.

It was like hooking a stanchion.

Hutch leaped over the hook and flashed a back-kick aimed at Ben’s head; he rolled away from it, then leapt high, whipping a spinning heel hook kick at Hutch’s head, who countered with a forearm block. That hurt Ben more than Hutch and he staggered as he landed awkwardly.

Hutch surged in throwing calculated, precise strikes that Ben was able to block, but the blows were powerful and fast. One slip and Ben would be out of it.

Which maybe wasn’t such a bad thing.

Hutch leaned left, Ben launched himself straight up with his left knee striking squarely under Hutch’s jaw. The crack drew a gasp from Brenda and left Hutch reeling backward. Ben bolted in on Hutch and slammed both elbows on either side of Hutch’s neck, dropping him to his knee, but then he rapid-fired two hard strikes into Ben’s right knee.

Searing pain erupted in Ben’s damaged knee and he fell backward. Both men hesitated, collecting themselves, when the storm exploded seemingly right over their heads.

The glass wall was blasted into shards by the thundering sea, inundating the entire training room and engulfing all three in a surging tide that hammered them first against the wall of the house and then yanked them mercilessly out to sea, their little drama dwarfed by the unimaginable fury of the storm.

Ben battled to break the surface of the raging sea, bursting through with a gasp and sputter. He struggled to tread water against the tides and his ruptured knee. But he was able to clear his vision and take stock a bit.

Perhaps one hundred feet away from him, someone was struggling to swim, and judging by the splash, it was Hutch. Ben began side-stroking toward the man who was no longer splashing. As he hove into view, Ben could see streamers of blood mingling with the whitecaps and Hutch’s head barely breaking the surface. Then his head sank and didn’t rise again.

The house was utterly demolished, debris littering the sea all around Ben, and he latched onto timber and slow-kicked himself to shore where he found Brenda, barely alive with a jagged chunk of timber sticking out of her chest and a glittering shard of glass protruding from where her eye should have been.

Ben crawled on shore, aided by waves that battered him and flattened him to the sand. He raised his head, roughly wiped hair from his eyes. “I won, you lunatic bastard. I won.”

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