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Amber C. Deck: Trust Me, Trust Me Not

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

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

Trust Me, Trust Me Not

Amber C. Deck

Trust is never easy. It can be fragile — much like a delicate snowflake. It can also be as dangerous as the brutal winter cold.

Interpol Agent Alerra “Allie” Montague had always had trust issues — ever since she’d been abandoned as a baby. After twelve foster homes and one failed engagement, the thirty-three year old was done with people disappointing her. She’d learned that not trusting others led to less heartache, and it made her one good agent.

At least, it had made her a good agent until this case.

Allie’s assignment had been to escort a visiting government official back to his hotel from the agency’s office in Paris. It had been a routine assignment that she’d done countless times — only this one went wrong. Horribly wrong.

Now, here she was in the snowy woods outside of Berlin with a poorly covered knife wound to her shoulder. She was heading to the one place of the one person she’d swore to never ask for help — Eli Kastnen. 

A loud knock on his cabin door caused Eli to reach for the rifle he kept in his coat closet. Peering out of the peephole he’d installed when he’d first moved in, he was surprised to see a woman standing there. Actually, he was more surprised at who the woman was rather than why she was pounding on his door at midnight.

Eli took a moment to glance over the trim, toned frame of the red-haired woman at his door. She was about five-foot-seven, which made her quite a bit shorter than him. Her fair complexion peeked through her bundled-up attire, but, even with the layers of clothing, Eli could tell something was a bit off about her by the way she stood.

Golden eyes looked up into the peephole as if she knew he was staring at her. Eli froze for a moment — unsure if he should open the door or act like he wasn’t home.

“Open the door, Eli. Please. I need your help.” Something in her voice made him reach for the door handle. He unlocked the heavy wooden door and pulled it open — waiting until she was inside to shut and lock it again. “Thank you.”

Allie gently shook the snow off of her as she glanced at Eli. He still looked as handsome as ever. His intense blue eyes, dark-blond hair, and muscular body were all too familiar to her — mostly since Eli was the one who’d called off their wedding. Had that really been four years ago?

“You look good, Eli. I must say that growing a beard works for you.” Allie eased her coat off before glancing at him. His beard was cut short and neat — just like his hair. Typical Eli. “It looks like leaving the agency suited you, too.”

“What are you doing here, Allie?” Eli crossed his arms over his chest. He wasn’t up to dealing with her nonchalant attitude after she’d just shown up out of the blue. “How did you even find me? It’s been four years since you went back home to Paris.”

“I only transferred because you dumped me a week before the wedding. I was heartbroken and scared about being abandoned again.” Allie tensed at the accusing tone in his voice — causing pain to radiate through her shoulder. She forced herself to relax as she looked up at him. She could tell her statement had bothered him by the way he shifted uncomfortably. “I knew you always planned to move out to your family’s cabin. That’s beside the point, Eli. I need your help.”

“I can tell.” A smirk formed on his face. “You kind of look terrible. Have you slept at all in the past four years?”

“For your information, I have slept fine,” Allie replied sharply. “I am only here because I have nowhere else to go. The assignment I was working on fell apart, and… and a member of the French government is in the hospital.” She eased the neckline of her shirt over — revealing the blood-soaked bandage. “The assassination attempt has the hospital on lockdown, which has somehow put me in the assassin’s crosshairs. I was attacked the minute I entered the parking deck at my apartment.”

Eli frowned. “Who knew about the route you were taking on your assignment?”

“Only a handful of people, Eli.” Allie saw the concern in his eyes as he looked at her shoulder. “Don’t worry about this. It’s just a scratch. I need you to help me, Eli, please. You’re still the best agent — even if you refuse to ever walk into an Interpol office again.”

“Yeah, and you already know what being an agent cost me.” Eli walked down the hallway and into his bedroom — emerging a few moments later with a first-aid kit. “We need to properly dress that wound before it gets infected.”

Allie sat down on his couch as he took a seat beside her. Eli placed the kit on the coffee table and began taking supplies from it. Both remained silent as he started tending to the injury on her shoulder.

“I know you left the agency because of me, Eli.” Allie hissed lightly at the burn of the antiseptic before continuing to speak. “I have trust issues — I know that. Despite all of my fears in my personal life, I’ve always trusted you. You’re the only one I could think of to help me. I don’t know who to rely on at the agency right now.” She glanced at him. “Someone wanted a high-ranking government official dead, Eli. I stood in their way, and I’m the one they want dead now.”

Eli remained silent as he finished bandaging her shoulder. Allie tried to get him to look at her — to see what he was thinking. She sighed as she shook her head.

“You don’t have to help me, Eli,” Allie told him as she stood up. “I should never have come here and brought up old memories. I’ll figure out what to do on my own. I always have, haven’t I?”

Eli gently grabbed her hand as she turned away from him — careful not to hurt her shoulder. Allie turned to see him staring up at her with a mixture of emotions that clouded his deep-blue eyes. No man had looked at her like that in a very long time… 

“You have always been too stubborn to see that you’re not alone anymore, Allie.” Eli stood up as she turned to face him. “It took years for me to figure out why you had such a hard time settling in one place. I just thought you didn’t want a rough-around-the-edges guy from Berlin, but I soon realized you weren’t used to staying in one place for long.” Eli released her hand. “I will always be here to help you, Allie. No matter if we ever make a relationship work again or not. I’ll always be here.”

Allie didn’t know whether to hug him or slap him for making her feel so terrible. She’d harbored quite a load of guilt since their broken engagement. She’d assumed Eli would have blamed her for everything and just forget about her. Leave it to the agency’s former best undercover operative to keep such a big secret from her.

Before Allie could respond to Eli, a low alarm sounded from somewhere in the room. She watched as Eli’s reaction tensed before he grabbed his TV remote off the coffee table. Pointing it at the TV that hung over his fireplace’s mantle, Eli flipped the screen on to show several security camera feeds. Allie stared at the screen as she watched figures cloaked in white fatigues, moving carefully through the snow.

“They tripped my perimeter alarm.” Eli’s voice was almost a growl. “They are about a mile out from the cabin. I need to get you out of here and call reinforcements.”

“No, Eli.” Allie shook her head vigorously. “I can’t run anymore. About five guys are coming — according to the cameras. I think we can handle this.” She gave him a worried glance as he pulled out his cell phone. “I don’t know who I can trust at the agency, Eli.”

“Luckily, I do.” Eli grinned as he dialed his best friend’s number. Xavier Graffe picked up on the first ring. “X, this is Eli. Got a situation at the cabin. Bring reinforcements, but only people you trust with your life. I don’t know when these guys will take out the cell…”

The line went dead before Eli could finish his sentence. That meant these guys were coming in faster than expected. Eli knew it would take at least half an hour for backup to get there. He just prayed that he and Allie could stay alive long enough for his former team to get there.

“They’re scrambling the cell signal now.” Eli walked over to the coat closet by the door and opened it. He pushed aside the thick coats to reveal a small assortment of weapons neatly hung on the back wall. “How much ammo do you have?”

“Just what is in this.” Allie pulled her 9MM Glock out from where she had tucked it into the back waistband of her pants. “I didn’t exactly get time to go by my apartment and pack a bag. I even rode here in the back of a moving van — not the best place to transport heavy artillery.”

Eli couldn’t hide a grin at her remark. Allie could always make him smile at the worst possible times. Like when they were surrounded by five armed guys who wanted her dead.

“Here, take this.” Eli handed her another 9MM Glock as he grabbed his Ruger 45-caliber handgun. He inserted the clip and grinned at her. “Ready to make some noise, baby?”

Allie smiled and nodded as she cocked her guns. Taking cover behind the sofa, she watched Eli flip over his solid-oak dining table. He grinned at her again as he knelt behind it. Now, it was time to wait…

The front door flew open after one of the intruders gave it a few swift kicks. Four men entered the room — slowly sweeping their weapons from side-to-side as they walked.

Rookie mistake, Eli thought as he nodded at Allie. Time to show these guys who they’re messing with.

Both Allie and Eli rose up slightly behind their hiding spots and fired two shots apiece. The four masked men went down instantly — with each howling in pain. Crimson stained their white fatigues as the men clutched where the bullet went in below the kneecap.

Eli stood and rushed over to the four men — kicking away their weapons. Thankful that he’d remembered to grab the zip-ties before the men arrived, he flipped each one over and secured their hands behind them. Each man groaned in protest as pain shot through them.

“Wait,” Allie said as she stood up from her spot behind the couch. “There’s only four of them. Where is the fifth guy?”

“Slipping through a window in the kitchen as all of this went down.” A female voice with a noticeable French accent came from behind Allie. She spun around to face the fifth masked intruder — gasping as the person removed their face covering. “Surprised to see me, partner? Or, should I say, former partner?”

“Claire LaRue.” Allie eyed the handgun that was aimed at her chest. Her former partner stood about the same height as her, which gave Allie clear visibility to the hatred in the blonde woman’s dark-brown eyes. “I’m not the reason you got fired, Claire. You chose to destroy that evidence — not me.”

“Allegedly. I allegedly destroyed evidence.” Claire spoke through clenched teeth. “You were my partner, Allie. You were supposed to have my back — no matter what. That’s what partners do.” Claire spotted Eli moving toward her. “That’s far enough, Kastnen. Any further and I put a bullet in your long-lost love.”

Allie eyed the gun in Claire’s hands. She clutched the two she held in her hands. If she could only get off a shot first…

“Don’t even think about it, Allie.” Claire glared at her. “Toss your guns over toward the kitchen — both of you.” She grinned as they both did as they were told. “Excellent. Now, we’re just going to have a little chat. One that ends with you confessing to destroying the evidence and me getting my job back.”

“No one would ever believe that.” Eli spoke to her in a calm tone. “Allie is as by-the-book as they come. Not one agent would believe your lies.”

“Shut up!” Claire yelled. The gun in her hand wavered slightly before she steadied it. “They will, too — by the time Allie’s body is found with her heartfelt confession and apology.”

Eli felt his blood run cold. “I won’t let you get away with this, LaRue. I’ll hunt you down and make you pay.”

Claire cackled. “You’ll be dead, too. Poor Eli Kastnen. The former fiancé of a corrupt agent. Allie came to you for help in covering up her crime, but you refused to help the woman you left years ago. In a crime of passion, she shot you before deciding to end her own life.” 

“You have thought of everything, haven’t you?” Allie’s mocking tone caused Claire to glare at her. “I do have one question. Why go after a government official first? Why not come directly after me?”

“I needed a diversion, Allie. You taught me that.” Claire gave her a sarcastic smile. “I just had to be a little more extreme in my plan. You can’t always apply your specific methods to everything. How would spilling a drink on my dress make everyone take their attention away from you?”

“How did you get information about the route we were taking? That plan was made weeks after you were terminated from the agency.” Allie was more curious than afraid or angry now. She had to identify any leaks in the agency.

“That was easy.” Claire waved her free hand in the air dismissively. “A group I helped out owed me a favor. They had a hacker, and I needed a way into Interpol’s servers without detection. I was in and out with the information I needed before anyone even knew it.”

“I take it that this group is the same one you allegedly destroyed the evidence for?” Eli’s voice had taken on a hardened tone — as if something had him on edge.

A slight movement in the kitchen caught Allie’s attention, but she kept her expression neutral. She had to be careful not to tip-off Claire. It looked like the cavalry had arrived just in time to save them.

“Enough talking.” Claire gave Eli a look full of hatred before turning her focus back on Allie. “It’s time for you two to play your part in my plan. To make things extra special for you, Allie, I’ll kill him first while you watch.” Claire gave Eli an evil grin. “She never stopped loving you, Kastnen. She’s horrible at telling people anything or sticking by them, but she always loved you.”

“I still love her, too.” Eli’s statement caused Allie to turn her head to face him. “That’s why I am calling the shots on this mission… and I always call for backup.” He started moving toward Allie. “Allie, get down!” 

Eli dove for Allie and knocked her to the floor — pinning her underneath him as a shot rang out. Silence followed, which sent a wave of fear through Allie.

Eli wasn’t moving. Had he been hit? Allie thought as her mind raced to catch up with what just happened. Please, Eli. Please be okay.

Footsteps came from the direction of the kitchen — stopping in front of the couple. From her position, Allie couldn’t see who the person was. She was hoping they were on her and Eli’s side.

“Uh. Are you two just going to lie there?” a gruff voice with a German accent asked them. “The threat has been neutralized.”

Allie could feel Eli chuckling as he moved away from her. She gave him a fake scowl as he stood up and extended a hand to her. She glanced briefly at Claire’s still body lying nearby — blood pooling around her as she lay face down on the floor. Allie quickly turned her attention back to Eli.

“I should hit you for that,” Allie told him as she accepted his help in getting up off the floor. “I thought you had been shot.”

“I’m going to let you two sort this out,” the man who’d helped them said — a bit of humor was in his tone. Allie remembered him as being Xavier — Eli’s best friend. “It’s good to see you, Allie. I wish I could stand around and catch up, but I have to call this in. Your team will want to know you’re safe, too.” Xavier handed her his spare satellite phone. “Use this to call. We haven’t found the scrambler yet. Bound to be on one of our lively friends over there.”

Allie thanked him as she accepted the phone. She stared at it for several minutes before Eli placed his arm around her waist.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Eli asked her. “Your team is probably worried sick about you.”

“I’m just trying to think of a way to tell them that I am not coming back to the agency.” Allie looked up at Eli and smiled at his shocked expression.”Do you know you haven’t called me ‘baby’ in over four years? I’ve missed it.”

Eli bent down and kissed her before replying. “You better get used to it then… baby.”

Allie grinned at the man she trusted and loved more than anyone in the world. She knew trust was dangerous, but she had been in more danger by not trusting someone to accompany her on the assignment.

It only took a familiar cabin in snow-covered woods to help her realize that trust made her stronger than ever before.

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Please visit Amber on her website and Facebook: 
GatorGirl Writer’s Nook (https://gatorgirlswritersnookblog.com)
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Enzo Stephens: Just Stay Home

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

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

Just Stay Home

By Enzo Stephens

The convenience store was an island of bright light in a sea of post-two-am darkness, with skies that were heavy with quick-moving clouds threatening to burst with torrential rains.

One lone late-model sedan populated one of many gasoline and diesel pumps. A pickup truck was perched in a parking slot along the front of the store. The only other motion evident on this quiet, still night was the fluttering mass of moths that were dive-bombing the lights over the fuel pumps.

A tall man entered the convenience store, pushing through the double-glass doors leaving a bell tinkling merrily in his wake. Inside was even more brightly lit than the outside, and the tension in the store was a living, breathing thing. The long, impeccably dressed man paid it no mind, stepping off to his immediate right to make his way back toward the banks of floor-to-ceiling coolers that comprised the back wall of the store. The heels of his crisp black Italian loafers clicked softly on the shiny tiled floor.

He spied his reflection in an overhead mirror; age indeterminate, salt-and-pepper hair carefully styled and arranged, body wrapped in a fine, dark blue suit, covered by a long, gray raincoat. A black Homburg hat rested on his head like it belonged there. He stepped past the mirror to the first of the bank of coolers which housed racks upon racks of various brands of beer. 

The man was not interested in beer, and so he moved on to examine the next cooler. He heard shouting; an angry man’s voice, coming from around the center of the store. The tall man registered the angry voice and the responding pleading voice, but single-mindedly continued on in his quest for a specific beverage, gliding past the second bank of coolers and then the third bank, which seemed entirely devoted to beer. 

He stepped up to the fourth bank of glass doors and stopped, finally landing on the treasure that he sought. And yet, there were so many different kinds? Monster—about ten different varieties and sizes of that one; Rockstar, NOS, Burn, Relentless, Street King, Lucozade, Full Throttle and Venom Energy to name a few. It was all very confusing, and the tall man sucked noisily at a tooth in annoyance at the prospect of having to read label after label just to get a refreshing drink with a kick.

He glanced at the next rack and frowned at the countless rows of mocha and coffee-flavored drinks. He turned back to the colorful array before him and selected the granddaddy of them all; Red Bull. He opted for sugar-free, as he read somewhere that sugar was addictive and Lord knows he did not need any of THAT in his life.

Decision made, he gazed longingly at the gleaming can with the little beads of sweat sliding down its sides. The tall man closed the door to the cooler and stepped back along an aisle with an unending volume of healthy protein and fiber bars. He shook his head at the seeming insanity of so many choices, set his jaw and moved along to the end of the aisle, stepping past a gleaming and brightly lit soda fountain with about a hundred different choices available. He saw six different kinds of Coke!

We live in a land of excess, he thought sadly as he moved toward the center of the store. He stopped to watch the tableau of the loud-voiced guy and the pleading guy. Seemed like he’d walked straight into a ‘situation’, as his father liked to call things like these.

The loud guy was actually pretty hyper, gesticulating wildly with a handgun; it appeared to be a Glock, yelling at a guy behind the counter a whole bevy of instructions that would confuse most people. “Get back! Keep you hands up! Gimme the money! Don’t do anything stupid. C’mon, c’mon, I ain’t got all night!”

The poor guy behind the counter looked like he didn’t have a clue. He’d reach for the cash register and the Glock-waving guy would scream at him again and he’d step back with his hands in the air. Spittle flew from the small, highly agitated Glock-waving guy. He kicked over a display of Cheetos, which actually looked pretty good to the well-dressed tall man. But only for a moment as he kept himself to a very strict diet and there would be no cheating on junk like Cheetos. He cleared his throat, which sounded deafening in the store.

Both men looked at him. He stepped up to the counter alongside the man waving the Glock and placed his sugar-free Red Bull on the counter. He nodded to the man with the Glock, who immediately went apoplectic. 

“Are you kiddin’ me, man! You see this?” he shouted, waving the weapon in the air over his head. The tall man stared at him.

He spoke calmly to the animated guy. “Well, sure I see it. Looks like a Glock. You’re going to want to be careful with that thing; I don’t think it has a safety on it.”

The clerk behind the counter shook his head at the tall man vigorously while the gunman stepped closer to him, screaming. “What’s wrong with you man? Get yo dumb gringo ass down on the floor NOW or I shoot you DEAD.”

The tall man looked at him, still calm. “I just want to buy my drink and I’ll be on my way.”

“What?! Piss on your drink!” he bellowed and then squeezed off a wild shot, punching a neat hole through the can of Red Bull and sending it spinning in a frothy spray off the counter. The tall man stepped back to avoid the foaming liquid. It splattered the clerk.

“That was my drink,” the tall man said.

“I said get yo ass down!” screamed the gunman, pointing the weapon sideways at the tall man; which was a very common mistake among thugs like this guy. It looked cool, but it was pretty stupid.

The tall man reached up slowly, lifting his Homburg, and ran a large hand over his speckled hair and then replaced his hat. “No, I don’t think so. This floor looks pretty clean but I don’t want anything on these pants.”

“WHA—” began the gunman.

The tall man moved the distance separating him from the gunman with inhuman speed. One moment he was in front of the counter, the next he had a vise-like hand clamped on the back of the gunman’s neck and the other wrapped around the shooter’s gun-hand, squeezing, squeezing, and crushing the guy’s hand against the hard, unyielding polycarbonate grip. Bones cracked and the guy screamed and the tall man could see his fouled teeth, which told him the guy was a meth-head who hit the pipe often; far too often.

In a blink of an eye, the tall man introduced the gunman’s head to the front of the convenience store’s main counter in a blur that ended in a loud crunch with splintering wood, and the gunman sagged to the floor, motionless, his head punched partially through the panel.

The tall man leaned over the downed gunman and wiped his gloves off on the man’s tee-shirt. He looked up at the clerk, who was both stunned and shocked at the sudden development, but then the ole wheels turned for the guy and he realized that a potentially very bad situation that could have been the end of his days had suddenly and happily reversed. He began to say “Thank y—”

The tall man glanced up over the clerk’s head toward the ceiling, then nodded to the clerk. “That thing working?”

“What?” he asked and then his eyes looked up to the ceiling behind him, spying a closed circuit-camera. There was no blinking red light, indicating that it was not recording. He turned to the tall man and said unnecessarily, “No.”

The tall man said, “Good. How much for another Red Bull.”

“Dude! It’s on the house, man.”

The tall man stepped up to the counter, beside the motionless gunman. The clerk stepped forward, hand outstretched to shake the hand of the man who’d likely just saved his life. The tall man accepted the handshake, then yanked forward suddenly and with tremendous force as the blade of his other hand swung in a blurred horizontal plane which ended with a dull, meaty thud at the clerk’s throat.

His head snapped back, eyes rolling up in his head and breath suddenly seemed to be stuck in the guy’s ravaged throat, and he dropped to the floor behind the counter, strangling on his crushed larynx. The tall man watched him struggle weakly, his face turning ashen and his lips turning blue. 

The tall man turned away and retreated to the fourth bank of coolers in the rear of the store and removed another sugar-free Red Bull. He stepped back up to the counter, dropped a five-dollar bill, and then stepped to the door of the convenience store, which was suddenly opened for him by a dark giant dressed in livery.

The tall man stepped past the giant, who rumbled, “Everything okay, sir?” as he opened the rear door of a gleaming Bentley Mulsanne. 

The tall man removed his Homburg. “No witnesses, Ernie. Nothing for you to have to clean up in there.”

“Yes, sir.” Ernie shut the door and compressed his heavily muscled six-foot-eight frame into the driver’s seat of the vehicle.

The Bentley slid away from the convenience store quietly, making its way out of Broken Arrow toward Tulsa.

All this could have been avoided had he just stayed home and enjoyed his customary coffee. But what fun would that have been?

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Sean Bracken: The Great Danes

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.)

The Great Danes

By Sean Bracken

CE 891

Marauders

Strong muscles glistened with sweat in the early morning light. In perfect unison, powerful strokes moved the ships against the current of the river Seine. The beat of a large drum, mounted at the stern of the lead ship, provided rhythm to the oarsmen as they pulled against the fast-flowing river.

The fleet consisted of one hundred warships, each crewed by sixty to a hundred warriors. The battle group was supported by a further twenty-four cargo craft, carrying extra arms, provisions and live goats for milk and fresh meat. The men aboard these support ships were also fearsome fighters. The sides of the longboats were protected by rows of shields, hung over the sides, just above the oars.

Above each ship, a tall mast hewn from mighty spruce trees, supported a single square rigged sail, furled and tied securely to a crossbeam.

The men were in jovial spirits. Paris was but two days away and the men looked forward to taking the city and the riches it contained.

They chanted in time to the drum, “Heave… Ho, Heave… Ho. To conquer Paris, we all go. Heave… Ho, Heave… Ho. King of Paris, fear your foe.”

The strong currents gave way to gentler waters, as the boats rounded a bend in the river into a wider expanse, and the men eased back on the oars. High on a hill overlooking the river, the old monastery of Saint Benedict stood tall and proud. Six ships pulled away from the main group, heading towards a shingle beach. The riches of this place were renowned throughout Europe and beyond. The Norsemen meant to have it all.

Word of the advancing Viking fleet had reached the monastery two days earlier. The Abbot, Brother Cornelius, had responded to the news by organising the monks into a hurried but effective concealment of the rich treasures and holy relics. Chalices, encrusted with precious gems, joined golden crucifixes and ornate tabernacles. Beside these riches, piles of illuminated books and scriptures were assembled. Each work painstakingly created over centuries by the hands of monks working into the dark nights by candlelight.

All traces of the treasures were gone with only hours to spare, before the invading horde arrived.

Led by Gulag Jacobson, the Norsemen were quick about their business. No sooner than the ships reached shore, the battle-hardened men were climbing the hill. The vine fields and vegetable gardens were left unattended. Goats, sheep and cattle ignored, as the raiding party reached the cloistered halls of the monastery.

At first the structure seemed abandoned. The warriors made their way from building to building, from room to room, finding nothing. The chant of holy song called out through the empty halls and, following the sound, the Viking warriors found the church.

Monks, dressed in brown, rough sack-cloth robes, tied at the waist by plain ropes, stood singing their songs of praise to their God. Not one monk showed any sign of fear. Instead they seemed to be joyous.

Filled with bloodlust, the Vikings descended on the praying monks. Broadswords and battle axes rained down on the heads and bodies of the monks. In moments, it was all over. Fifty monks lay dead or dying. Their blood seeping into the crevices of the chapel floor. The holy song replaced by the cries and whimpers of the injured.

Perhaps, had the Norsemen spared even one monk, they might have discovered where the treasure was hidden. But no, as the last monk expired his final breath, he took the secret with him.

The Vikings ransacked the monastery, upending furniture, desecrating the church. Their search was in vain. Frustrated beyond belief, in anger they put torches to the buildings. Fuelled by ancient oak rafters, wooden pews, timber floors and the corpses of the dead, the monastery was soon an inferno.

Before returning to the ships on the beach, the Norsemen rounded up the cattle, goats and sheep, and herded them aboard the boats.

Pulling hard on their oars, they rowed fast and furious, intent on rejoining their comrades for the assault on Paris.

Behind them, flames from the burning monastery soared high in the sky, and black clouds darkened the sun.

Present Day

Baldur and Frya

Jenny Rider’s heart heaved from exertion. The trek through the forest and the final climb up to the clearing would have been taxing enough, but the oversized pack on her back slowed her progress and weighed heavy on her shoulders. Despite the discomfort, Jenny relished her environment.

The area had been a national park and wildlife preserve for many years, but because of poor access, remained unspoilt and untravelled. Here, there were no sign-posted nature trails, park benches, picnic areas, camping sites or any other signs of humanity. The only paths were animal trails, made by foxes, deer, badgers and other wild creatures.

This was where Jenny felt whole. This was where her spirit soared. This was where she became alive.

In the real world, Jenny worked as a day trader for a major banking corporation. Her days were spent studying computer screens, monitoring subtle changes and fluctuations in commodities, shares and currencies. She was good at her job, some said that she was gifted, so much so that between her salary and performance bonuses, Jenny had become a very wealthy woman. In her late thirties, with a mane of rich auburn hair, piercing blue eyes, and gifted with a tall athletic body, she was envied by many and loved by all who knew her.

At her heels ran Baldur, a Great Dane. Baldur and his sister Frya had been her constant companions for many years. Today, Jenny’s normal joy of the forest was missing. Along with her tent, sleeping bag and provisions, Jenny carried an urn containing the cremated remains of Frya. She had come here to bury her beloved and loyal friend at the top of the hill, on the fringes of the forest.

“Nearly there now, boy,” she said, as she reached the edge of the forest.

The shadows of the foliage gave way to a broad expanse of meadow, leading up to the ruins of a now desolate abbey. Little remained of the monastic settlement. A single arched wall stood tall and proud against the sky. Devoid of its splendid stained-glass windows, it defied the centuries, a testament to the masons and craftsmen of old. Wisps of cloud drifted overhead in the late June sky. Below, the majestic river Seine continued its journey to the sea. Undergrowth from the forest threatened to invade the clearing. Gorse and ferns encroached into the sacred grounds, as if testing and probing, in preparation for nature’s final incursion and takeover of the land.

Jenny and Baldur sank to the ground below the arched windows. Exhausted from the hike, Jenny sat with her back against the structure and released the clasps on her pack. Baldur lay beside her, resting his huge head on her lap. She pulled a dish from her pack for the dog and gave him some water from her canteen. The thirsty beast lapped it up in a few seconds and Jenny gave him a refill. She chewed on an energy bar while she rested. Then it was time to pitch camp.

Jenny led Baldur over to the edge of the clearing. Many years ago, when she was still a young girl, she had helped her father to choose the site, and she had used this spot ever since. The big firepit they had built all those years ago only needed a little cleaning, and soon it was as good as new. Well practised and trained, Baldur vanished into the treeline, returning moments later carrying a branch in his mouth. The dog continued to search for firewood and kindling until Jenny gave him the command to stop.

Jenny set about unpacking her tent and camping gear. By the time Baldur had amassed enough branches and twigs, the campsite was ready. As the sun began to set, Jenny had a warm fire blazing in the pit with a pot of water coming to a boil for coffee.

Frya’s ashes sat in an urn at the side of the tent.

“It’s getting dark now, Baldur,” Jenny said. “We’ll take care of Frya in the morning.”

They both enjoyed a filling meal, cooked on the open fire. Jenny sipped on the last of her coffee and gave the last of the water to Baldur. She knew that there was a pristine stream nearby for fresh water and that she could refill the canteens in the morning.

They sat quietly together, enjoying the nighttime sounds of the forest, until the dying fire had fully extinguished. Under the light of a full moon, they crawled into the two-man tent and slept soundly until dawn.

The following morning, after replenishing their water bottles and enjoying a hearty breakfast, Jenny picked up the urn and began to scout for a suitable place to bury the ashes.

She eventually decided to dig under the arched window of the monastery. Bandur nodded his head as if in agreement with her choice.

As she began to dig, Jenny reflected on the history of this sacred place. It had once been a thriving community of monks. Their life devoted to prayer and contemplation of holy scripture. The monastery was reputed to have been rich in treasure, and religious art and manuscripts. Until one morning the Vikings had arrived. They sacked the settlement, killed the monks in a bloody slaughter and torched the buildings, before making off, laden down with the riches they had stolen.

A dull metallic thud interrupted Jenny’s digging. She cleared the dirt from the hole and looked down. Expecting to see bedrock or a flagstone from the floor of the old church, she was surprised to see what looked like a stone trapdoor with a circular brass handle attached to it.

“What have we got here, Baldur? Perhaps an old wine cellar or storage area. Come on, let’s keep digging and see what we find.”

Baldur joined in to help, scraping away at the dirt with his front paws. An hour of constant excavation revealed the full extent of the trapdoor. It was roughly three feet by two feet with two handles, one at each end of the longer sides. Jenny pulled on the handles, but the door stood firm. It was firmly embedded in the soil. Jenny redoubled her efforts, straining to lift the stone slab. It was futile, the slab refused to budge.

“Baldur, fetch the rope, boy. Go to the camp and fetch the rope.”

Baldur immediately obeyed her command and ran back to the camp. He picked up Jenny’s climbing rope in his mouth and ran back to her, wagging his tail.

“Good boy, good boy,” she said, scratching the dog behind his ears and feeding him a reward from her pocket.

Jenny looped the rope through the brass handles and threw the slack up and over the arched window frame. She ran around to the other side and, using the arch for leverage, pulled with all of her strength on the rope. At first, the slab refused to budge, but slowly, ever so slowly, Jenny felt movement. With one final heave on the rope, the massive stone slab slid up and free from the hole. Jenny sank to her knees, gasping for breath. Her arms and back ached from the strain.

“Come on boy, let’s see what we’ve found,” she said. “I hope it’s not the grave of some long-dead monk.”

Jenny switched on her torch and shone it down into the excavation. Rough hewn steps, carved into the rock, led down into the gloom.

“Sit, Baldur, sit. Stay, boy.”

The dog obeyed and Jenny began to climb down into the dark chamber.

At once she knew that this was no grave site or wine cellar. She was surrounded by a treasure trove. Gold and silver relics, stacks of ancient books, chalices and crosses filled the room.

Leaving Baldur to stand guard, Jenny set out on the twenty-mile hike through the forest back to civilisation. Three hours later, she found a roadside service station and a Wi-Fi signal. She Googled a number for the National Institute for Antiquities. She explained her discovery to the man at the other end, Professor Tibot. She told him that the find was now open to the elements and needed urgent attention.

Professor Tibot must have been a man of some influence. Just over an hour later, he alighted from a Bell helicopter, in the parking lot of the service station. After quick introductions, Jenny was in the air, heading back to her camp.

When they landed, they found Baldur still patiently standing guard over the excavation.

The professor was astounded at the wealth of Jenny’s find. He contacted his institute in Paris on the Bell’s radio and, by that night, the area was swarming with people removing and cataloguing the treasure. Floodlights and generators had been installed, allowing the team to work through the night.

Jenny was entitled to fifty percent of the find’s value, but she waived her rights to the claim on one condition.

And so it came to pass that a great treasure trove, missed by the Vikings all those centuries ago, became named after two other Great Danes, Freya, goddess of love and war, and Baldur, god of peace.

Despite the great excitement at her discovery, Jenny left the dig site with a heavy heart. Frya was interred at the forest edge, and Jenny knew that her private place, known only to her and her late father for all these years was gone. From now on it would be famous. Public trails would be opened and soon coach loads of tourists and day-trippers would take over.

The End

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

Adam Johnson: My Journey

Hello, it’s wonderful to be meeting you at this point in my journey.

Our aim is to bring people—writers—together, no matter where you are in your journey. With that being said, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Adam Johnson. I’m nearly thirty years old and I have been writing, seriously, for about six years. Since I was a child, I have had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether it was movies, TV, comic books or novels, I was totally engrossed in them. My love for story has only grown over the years.

A few years after high school, a friend of mine invited me to play Dungeons and Dragons and I was hooked. It was all I could think of for awhile; again, totally engrossed in the story. I was so involved that I decided to write a backstory for my character. I sat down to write without high expectations but, it ended up being over fifteen pages long. Much to my surprise, it was actually pretty good too! From there, it was over! I have been writing ever since.

I was lucky enough to find a tremendous group of writers through Facebook. Joining Writers Unite! was one of the best things that could have happened to me as a writer. I have the opportunity to work with the craft that I love with a great group of people. It has been a gift for me and it’s a gift that we would like to share with everyone.

Welcome to Writers Unite!

 

Deborah Ratliff: The Lonely Writer

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Writing is lonely work. At least, that is the opinion of friends of mine who are not writers. They ask, how can you sit at a computer all day and not talk to anyone? Somehow, telling them, I’m never alone and that I talk to my characters would likely not reassure them being alone is good for me.

The fact is that despite the witty or testy or romantic conversations we have with our creations, writing is lonely work.

My career provided a writing outlet. I wrote research papers, training, operations, and policy manuals, newsletters, and media advertising copy.  While necessary within the scope of my work and writing advertising was challenging, I never felt fulfilled. When time to write presented itself, I took the plunge. I started writing fiction.

As an only child, the solitude of writing was never a concern. What I did discover was that the support provided by co-workers, those who possessed proper grammar, or could help with a word or phrase or paragraph was conspicuously absent. While Google is our friend, spewing out all sorts of information about point of view, world building or when to use ‘who or whom,’ bouncing ideas off of Google is not possible, and Siri quit talking to me.

Writers need human contact. We may sit at our keyboards, fighting aliens for control of the universe, playing detective to catch a serial killer or write about a first kiss while lost in our imaginary worlds, but we need each other. We may have a question about the correct verb tense to use, or how to phrase a sentence or redo a paragraph that is driving us to eat ice cream by the pint.

We need each other.

The question becomes where do you go to find such support?

I first found a local writing group and was quite pleased with the members and the cordial but targeted feedback. However, meeting once a month and an inactive Facebook page didn’t provide the interaction I was hoping to have with other writers. Having listened to the “experts’ who drilled that a writer needs a social platform, I joined Facebook and searched for writing groups.

Still, I was dissatisfied. The groups I joined either devolved into cliques or arguments. Then I was asked to join the Facebook group Writers Unite! and I found a home. A writing group that focused on writing and attempted to keep discourse to a minimum. A haven for writers of all levels of expertise to share their work, gain constructive feedback and learn from each other.

This is what a lonely writer needs. We need to know someone who understands our struggles and is willing to listen to our questions and give their advice. Someone who will read our work and respectfully provide critique. We may have our characters to chat with, but we need each other to complete our goals.

Thanks to all who have joined us, as Writers Unite! on Facebook has grown to a membership rapidly approaching 15,000 in one year. As we expand our outreach to the web with the launch of the “Writers Unite!” blog, we hope you will join us in our goal to learn and improve our writing.

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Michele Sayre: My Writing Journey, So Far

I started putting pen to paper seriously when I was about eleven or twelve years old. My father at this point had been writing for a couple of years and I used to fall asleep to the sound of his typewriter as his office was in the room next to mine. When I was thirteen I got my first typewriter and there was no going back after that. Since then I’ve gone through two typewriters, one primitive word processor, and several laptops and a desktop computer. I’ve also seen massive changes in writing and publishing since those tentative scribblings of twenty-plus years ago.

But my journey has had its’ ups and downs. I’ve gotten rejection slips. I’ve gone through long periods where I didn’t write a word for days. I’ve trashed manuscripts and had projects wither and die on me. Yet I’ve kept at it.

And how have I done that, you may ask?

I’m not quite sure to be honest. It just seems that I’m always drawn back to the keyboard, to the words themselves. Because no matter what I’ve gone through in my life and how long it’s taken me away from the writing itself, the stories and words still continue to flow through my mind. And that flow of words and stories in my head is the real reason I write: to get those words out of my head.

I’ve always felt I communicate better with the written word than in person as I am the classic shy introvert who still has to work at not being shy. But I will admit to being shy with my writing, too, which is another goal of my writing career.

So what have I learned on my journey so far?

I’m not a bad writer in that I can write in a way that gets a reader’s attention and makes them want to read more.

I’m pretty good with grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Most of all, I’ve learned that no matter how long I may step away from the keyboard, I’ll always go back. And when I go back I’ll be a better writer for it.