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Enzo Stephens: Reconciliation

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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Reconciliation

Enzo Stephens

Mason padded barefoot over rough, weathered planks of the dock in the pitch black of the wee hours of the morning when the moon plummets from the night sky with no blazing celestial body to take its place for a few hours.

A thick blanket of clouds obscured the wide swath of stars that speckled the heavens, so even their light was gone. Just the occasional flash of lightning, jagged, jarring, drawing the eye as well as the imagination, filled the sky.

Even though Mason was as captivated by the sheer power and enormity of the elements as hundreds of generations of men before him who’d experienced this very same vista from this very same spot, he was still very mindful of where he placed his feet on the aged, rickety dock. The wood could be slick, and so some caution was in order.

Gentle swells rocked the dock, and Mason was struck at the thought of him having his ‘sea legs,’ even though he was still technically ashore. Yet the sea pushed and pulled, causing the dock to sway; Mason unconsciously compensated by adjusting his gait.

A fish flashed in the depths off to his left, a smattering of fluorescent sea foam in its wake as Mason moved past the second set of pilings on either side of the dock, soundless, a shadow moving of its own volition amid the deep dark.

Two more sets of pilings until the end of the dock. Forty feet.

Another jagged bolt split the sky, and its accompanying rumble thrummed in the distance.

The rains would come soon. It being the tropics, flash storms came daily, often several times a day. Mason smiled in the gloom. Let the torrent come. Mason would train, come hell or high water.

Mason sensed the end of the dock several feet before him; heard the gentle susurration of the lapping sea from every direction except directly behind him. He inhaled deeply, forcing air all the way down to the pit of his stomach, and then released it in a controlled exhalation. A subtle calmness stole over him as he repeated the disciplined breathing.

The breath is the life.

In. Hold. Release. Hold.

Again.

Mason sank into a seated Lotus position, his body descending to the planks as a leaf falls from a tree. Once seated, deep in the throes of the discipline, Mason opened his senses, each repetition of the breathing discipline helping his mind to flow outward.

Another blaze of searing electricity scorched the air, and Mason felt his hair react and smelled the faint whiff of ozone…

And accepted it.

Four thick weathered posts — reminiscent of tree trunks, marked the end of the dock. Mason sensed them, perhaps five to six feet before him.

Mason leapt to his feet effortlessly, landing on the balls of his feet, the end of the dock a mere two strides away.

Moving fast enough to be a blur against the night, Mason swung his right shin in a whipping horizontal arc that cracked against a piling, then followed that with his left shin.

Mason continued, throwing kicks faster and with more power, keeping the cadence of his breathing, the complaining skies a backdrop to the shocking meaty whacks that rolled out across the sea. Still, Mason continued, the blows hammering weathered wood mercilessly.

He felt moisture on his legs as he continued to piston his hips left, then right, and that wetness may have been the sea, or sweat, or blood.

Didn’t matter. There was the training, and that was all.

A wicked shard of glaring lightning blistered the skies seemingly just over Mason’s head, illuminating the sea around the dock, the battered and bruised piling, and the dock itself.

He lowered his head and shot kick after kick out, faster, harder. No feeling in his legs, the breath burning in his lungs, as his cadence grew more hurried. Mason told himself to calm down, but…

Faster!

A final leap, wrenching of his hips and his left shin whipped out again, slammed into the tortured wood, and then through it, splinters flying through the gloom, the momentum of the insanely powerful kick spun Mason around 180 where he came to rest again on the balls of his feet. He fought to slow his breathing as the skies split open with a severe horizontal rip of light.

It was then that he sensed…

Another.

He narrowed his eyes, forcing an increase in blood flow, and the gloom brightened just a smidge, enough for Mason to see more than dark blobs in the night.

There, at the juncture of dock and shore, stood a figure; quiet, unmoving. As still as the night itself.

“What do you want?”

Silence, and yet the figure took a silent step in Mason’s direction.

Curious. Thunder blared, closer now. It was only a matter of time before the skies opened up and the deluge came. Mason watched the figure with furrowed brow as it took another step.

He turned to face the mute figure fully, determined not to allow the elements in their fury to distract him.

The figure was closer now, and Mason could make out the form of what appeared to be a child. “Aren’t you a bit young to be out at this hour in this weather?”

Still nothing. Another feeding fish broke the surface with a splash, jarring Mason. He forced himself to calm as the figure took another step; it was maybe fifteen feet away from Mason now. Mason adjusted his position into a classic fighting stance; hands open before him, body centered, feet well rooted, because one never knew what kind of cluster-fudge would come a man’s way, now would one.

Another step.

Another blast of light across the heavens, and Mason could see the other’s face.

It was that of a boy, maybe ten years old. His color was ashen, white, perhaps washed out by the blast of lightning.

Dark, tousled hair hung over the boy’s forehead, framing twin pits that were pure black where the boy’s eyes should be.

His mouth was a crimson slash beneath an upturned nose. The boy was maybe 70 pounds and dressed in tattered jeans and sporting an inane tee-shirt emblazoned with the infamous Rolling Stone tongue.

And no shoes.

The boy stopped before Mason, still silent and still soundless while the skies rumbled and belched. Mason stepped toward the boy, then paused when he spied twin tracks of glistening moisture tracing down the boy’s cheeks, and a sudden, overwhelming wave of utter sadness beset him.

“Who are you? What’s wrong?”

The boy raised his arm, extended his hand, and that hand clutched a square of what appeared to be paper.

Mason gingerly reached for the paper, took it; eyes locked on the strange boy as his hand fell lifeless to his side.

He looked at what he’d taken from the boy. It was a photograph, though it was difficult to discern details in the pre-dawn gloom, then the skies cooperated by unleashing a jagged blast across the horizon, and the details of the picture swam into focus.

Mason recognized his mother. She was seated in the photo, and perched on her lap was…

A boy.

Mason. And…

The boy before him.

“I don’t…” He looked down at the picture again. She was smiling, utterly radiant; the look of love she had for the boy on her lap…

Mason’s eyes were streaming, his vision blurred. He remembered all that he struggled for so long to forget, and he wept, sinking to his knees against the rough and splintery dock; great, heaving sobs wracking his body.

He felt a gentle touch on his heavily muscled shoulder, and he looked up into the eyes of the boy. Into his eyes. Eyes that wept just as intensely as he wept.

“Please forgive me, Mom! Please…”

The heavens split horizontally with a mammoth blast, and then the rains came.

But Mason kept that picture dry as he moved on cat feet away from the end of the dock.

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

Calliope Njo: Finals

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

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

Finals

Calliope Njo  

The final elements exam was coming up and I needed to study. I didn’t even know why we had to know it. Conjure whatever up and that was it. We only needed to know how to work the spells.

Fire came from a combination of… what? Oh, teach me not to take notes. This big and old thick book took centuries to look anything up.

And magic wouldn’t work on it.

I’m going to flunk this, and then I’m going to have to take this series of studies all over again.

Why don’t I quit now and pretend to live in the nonmagic mortal world, happy and cozy? It wouldn’t be happy and cozy. It would be miserable. Those days of wishing for anything I wanted disappeared. Until I learned all of this stuff anyway.

I hated this. All right. Try to find something to relate to the stuff I needed to know.

Somebody cleared their throat. I ignored it because I had more important things to worry about. Go ahead and turn me into a frog. Go ahead. It would give me an excuse.

It got louder.

“What? Can’t you see I’m busy? I’m trying to find some information that I need to know but I don’t have that information. So I have to find another way of getting that information. So if you don’t mind… .”

“What is your name again?” a woman asked.

“Call me Gigi. It’s easier. What? Just turn me into a frog already.” There had to be something here.

“My name is Hortense, by the way. From the Eastwick House. We could put our resources together and study. That would be better. Right?”

I looked up.

She laughed.

Wait a minute. Hortense Eastwick came from the House of Blood. “You’re not a Magic Caster. You’re a vampire. A recruiter of sorts. Vampires have the ability to seduce and hypnotize anyone. So the term recruiter is more of a label than anything else. Why are you here?” I stood up and papers and books fell off my lap.

She floated towards me which confirmed my suspicion. “Because I need a new member of the family. New blood needs to be added, you see.”

I backed away. “Not mine. I deny your request.”

She hissed and backed away from me. “We will see.” Out she flew.

Deep breath in and out before getting back to my disaster. Somewhere among all of this, I had to have the answers. I didn’t want to fail.

I fell to the floor and picked up each individual piece of paper, note, scrap, or whatever I had any writing on and put them into a pile. I wanted to stack them, but with the way my luck was running, it would collapse as soon as I did that. So studying on the floor it was.

When someone sat on the floor, that spot provided the best view of shoes. Everybody wore the same ugly black ones with the brass buckle in the middle and about as heavy and comfortable as a cauldron. Good size ranges, though. It went from tiny to gigantic and back again.

“What are you doing?” someone behind me asked.

“I need the notes to the elements lecture. I was hoping I had it but I couldn’t find them, which meant, I had to look at the big book of answers but I didn’t want to because those answers would take an eternity to search for.” Ketchup? Why did I need ketchup? Why did I even still have that receipt? Focus, idiot. Focus.

“Why didn’t you say so?” She put papers on my pile that had the elements notes.

“Yes. Thank you. A combination of hot and dry produced fire.” I should’ve known that. It was basic.

I spent the night grabbing snacks, copying notes, and sorting them in order to study. By the time the sun streamed through the window, my mind had turned to mush. That flavorless goop was mislabeled as food. Maybe I could grab a little sleep. Only a few winks.

Head on top of books, close the eyes, and—the morning bell sounded. I stood up and hoped beyond hope that I remembered all of what I read. Who was I kidding? I forgot everything.

I got cleaned up as much as I could. At the very least, I didn’t want to look like I never slept. Made it to breakfast and finished said meal. That left a few minutes between the morning routine and the first test.

I leaned against a wall and closed my eyes. Not quiet and not the best place, but it had to do. A stench reached my nostrils. I knew that stench.

“Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping by now? Not to mention, you could use” — I scanned her from top to bottom — “some color. Please leave.” I closed my eyes.

She must’ve leaned in closer because that smell got stronger. “You owe me.”

“I owe you nothing. Now just go away.” I tried to push her away but it didn’t work. She stood there and stared at me.

“You will after I grant you a gift.” She smiled enough for me to see her fangs.

“Any gift granted to anyone from a vampire must pay with their soul. Vampires will do anything for such a prize. So beware. Not necessarily a lesson, so much as a rule of survival one of my teachers said once.” Damn. The bell rung. Thanks a lot. I picked up my books and left the area.

I made sure to walk in the sun. The route took longer but I did it in order to keep her away. Then the smell of flowers filled the air. Never so glad.

The first class was composition. We had to write an essay on our favorite spell and why in five paragraphs. That one wasn’t so bad. I only hoped there were no spelling errors.

The next one was formulation. Put together a potion and the results of said potion, being sure the herbs and amounts used were correct. The wording used to inform the person about the potion needed to be correct as well. Any misinformation would cost us a higher percentage point.

Then came the elements exam. The students that came before me didn’t show any emotion, so I couldn’t tell if they passed or not. There were no max points or such. It was either you got it or not.

With fifteen people in the class, I was chosen as being the last one. That gave me the opportunity to watch the students before me. I heard some of them answer questions, and based on our teacher’s reactions, only a few got a nod. That nod would make a difference later.

Everybody left, so it was my turn. The question he asked me seemed basic enough. I needed to fill in the blanks. “First element and transformation powers.” I smiled. It couldn’t hurt.

He nodded. I got a nod.

Then he told me to conjure lightning. Lightning? I didn’t remember any notes on lightning. I knew what to do and how to do it so I had to accomplish the unexpected.

Sorting through my tired brain took a bit. I put pink lightning in the sky. I liked that color and I thought it would look pretty.

He lowered and shook his head before he looked at me. “Pink? Is there pink lightning in nature?”

“I could change it but I thought it would look” — I yawned — “pretty.” Not a time for that.

“Very well. You have passed the test. And get some sleep before you do something that can’t be reversed. Clear?”

I was so happy, I could conjure an entire fireworks display. “Yes, sir.” I passed. I could sleep.

I somehow made it back to the room. With the bed in sight, I went for it. I lay down on the cot and closed my eyes. No intention of getting up any time soon.

“Well, well, well,” Hortense said in my ear. “Who do we have here sleeping in this nice warm bed?”

“I’m going to find the sharpest and the pointiest stick and stab you with it if you don’t stop.” I opened my eyes and lifted my head. “Why me? There’s plenty of other, I don’t know, people out there. So go bother them.” I lay down on my bed while hoping she took the hint.

“Aw. I’m hurt.” She sniffed a couple of times.

“Yeah. Right.” Wait a minute. The sun is up and it’s shining right on her and she did not disintegrate. “Why aren’t you powder?”

“Oh. Well. You see, I’m not a full-blood. I can go out whenever I want. So, can we play?”

“You gotta be lying to me.”

“Wake up and look for yourself.”

“Don’t want to. Don’t care to. Go crawl back to those underground tunnels you guys took from us and go feed on rats or something.”

“Yuck. Have you ever tasted one? Those are disgusting.”

I had it. “Leave. Me. Alone. I. Deny. Your. Presence.” I held the pillow over my head.

“You’ll be sorry.”

I didn’t hear her anymore so I assumed she left. I went back to sleep for what I hoped would be the rest of the day, but no.

“Oh. Gigi, love. They posted the results.”

I sat up. “They did.” I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

We ran toward the Results Boards and looked for our numbers. “I got into the ninety-percentile range.” I passed. I did great.

“So did I. So. Rome? London? Oh, wait. Skip London. I got family there and if they see me that means the end of my fun. Oh, how about Edinburgh.”

I smiled. “Rome it is.” I wandered around the room to see what I could pick up that was mine. I so wanted to get back the ability to conjure spells, but until the results were confirmed, it was doing it the mortal way.

I found my carpetbag and put everything in. Lucky for us, the travel station had pathways that led to certain areas of the world. All one had to do was get there. Well, proper ID and money were involved, but it was possible.

Down the hill, through the woods, to the right, and into the city. From there under the bridge and into the tunnels. Bloodsuckers tended not to use these because of the holes in the top. They let in light.

Turn right and then left and up to the ticket booth. I let Agatha choose. A door opened and in we went.

Pathways came into being as one ended. Then that smell again. Why couldn’t this be simple?

“Hold on. Agatha?”

“What? You want to rest?”

I pointed to Hortense with my head.

“Oh. Let me know if you want help.” Agatha put down her bags and sat on them.

“We’ve been through this already. Twice. Are you that dense or that stupid?”

She laughed.

This got damned annoying. “What part of that was funny? The dense or the stupid part?” I went through my head of possible spells. Problem was, vampires were often quicker than anything that might work.

“Hmm. Oh.” She smiled and floated towards me. “You see. Not everyone is forgiving. As a matter of fact, our interactions have come to the attention of others. It has become a challenge. A challenge with the prize of your blood. So you see, you need me.”

“Like I need a wart on my nose. Who would come after me during the day?”

She smiled even wider. “You have no idea.” She flew away.

We got going again and into Rome. The Roman Coliseum would forever be a beautiful sight. To go back in time and sit next to Julius Caesar. As long as we’re careful, nobody would know.

“Oh. I know what you’re thinking.” Agatha smiled. “Let’s get something to eat first. Then we’ll go.”

“Oh right. OK.”

We stopped by a local place and had some pasta. Never so happy to have something as normal as pasta. People said I was addicted. I didn’t have a problem with that. The herbs, vegetables, and textures suited me perfectly.

We returned to the Roman Coliseum and walked through time. We sat next to each other with the other people and watched the gladiators fight to the end.

Swords, daggers, nets, maces, and hand-to-hand combat made for an exciting time both against each other and animals. All that blood but the excitement was palpable with all of that energy. The fact that one was a woman and the other a man made it more intense.

When the games were done, we returned back to our time. At least we saw a game. The sun began to set and Agatha was hungry again.

This time, it was seafood. Fresh seafood had a flavor all its own. No matter how fresh frozen it was. There was no comparison. Butter and lemon were all that was needed to season our dish.

At sunup the following day, we returned back to our academy. We had a good time and needed that break. At least I know I did.

I went back to my room and found somebody else in my bed. “Excuse me. You’re in my bed.”

He was a small boy with brown hair. A little overweight too with buck teeth. “No, I not. I here.”

I left the room to look for the room assignment posting. I made it to the housing office to ask about my room.

“Happy travels, ma’am.” I nodded my head. “Where can I find the room assignments posting?”

A clipboard made itself known. “Name please?”

“Gingin-Ambretta Digiello. I’m a product of two houses that haven’t formed a union. The age-long dispute over property hasn’t been solved yet.”

Papers flipped. “Yes. There you are. You are housed in the Western Province building. Third floor. Left room.”

What? That couldn’t be. “Do you need me to repeat the name?”

“That is not necessary. According to our showings, you are now in the Master’s Class. You scored high enough to make it to the highest level we offer.”

Oh, my magic wand. It couldn’t be. Did I do that well?

I ran out of the office to look for the scores sheet, again. Maybe I missed something the first time. I found it hanging on the door of the main entrance. I almost fainted. Ten students, including me, made it into the top percentage category. How was that possible? Should I even have questioned that?

Oh, my magic wand.

Without any knowledge of how I got there, I stood in front of the door with the letters L-E-F-T on it. I was one of the elite students.

“Gingin-Ambretta I take it?” somebody asked.

Something touched me. With my mouth open, I turned towards the voice. “Huh?”

She laughed. “There is still time to recover from the news. In the meantime, my name is Cressida. I am of the highest rank here, and therefore, the one responsible for everyone’s behavior. When you can function again, turn the doorknob.”

“Huh? OK. Nighty night.”

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

D. A. Ratliff: The Watch

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

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

The Watch

D. A. Ratliff

The boat rocked gently against the piling. The calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico lapped against the hull while thunder echoed in the distance as lightning streaked across the sky. He waited, watching boats coming in and out of the bay. One of these nights, his quarry would show up.

~~~

It was six a.m. when Sam Jones finished fueling the Hatteras Sport yacht. The owner, Dennis Brady, was taking a group of his business associates into the Gulf for a day of fishing, and he had come in at six-thirty to fuel the boat and wipe down the morning dew. Brady and his friends were on board, already drinking Bloody Marys. He had yet to have coffee.

Brady’s captain announced he was ready to leave, and Sam slipped the docking lines from the boat cleats, glad that Brady hired a captain. Otherwise, he would have alerted the Coast Guard to be on the lookout for a group of drunken businessmen.

He wiped the sweat from his brow as he retreated to the cool quiet of the Marina office. He loved the heat, but August in southwest Florida was brutal. The humidity was thick, clammy on his skin, and his shirt was already damp from sweat.

He made a pot of coffee, settled behind the desk that the marina manager insisted he have—insisted because the manager shoved the paperwork onto him when he could, which gave his boss more time to schmooze with the yacht club members, especially the female ones.

At least the coffee was good, and as he drank, he checked the fuel levels in the tanks. It wouldn’t be wise to run out of gas or diesel when one of the members wanted to cruise the Gulf. Temper tantrums by grown men were not pretty.

A bit past eight, Marty Wicker, Yacht Club Marina Manager—it said so right on his white golf shirt—finally arrived for work. His glassy eyes were a dead giveaway. He’d been partying all night. Marty headed straight to the coffee pot, took the pot and a mug to his desk, and sank into his chair.

“Ah, Sam, what a night.”

Sam choked back the words he wanted to say and chose to stay strictly business. “Checked the fuel tanks and ordered more for delivery on Thursday.”

Marty slugged back coffee. “Yikes… that’s hot.” He struggled to talk. “That bloody annual summer picnic is this weekend, isn’t it? I forgot.”

“Yep.” Sam rose. “Now that you are here, I’m going to check the boats. Also did the dock assistants’ schedules, and I’ll do inventory in the marine store.” Before Marty could answer, Sam left.

The sun was burning hot, and the glare from the chrome boat trims and cleats on the dock blinded him. He slipped on his Wayfarers and walked to the store to find the door locked. The store opened at eight a.m., and Frankie was late again. He unlocked the door, turned over the open sign, and began taking inventory.

Frankie stumbled into the store at nine-fifteen. He stopped in his tracks when he saw Sam. “Hey, man, sorry. Couldn’t wake up.”

“Luckily, only one customer came in, picking up a prepaid order. Get the computer up while I finish inventory.”

“You aren’t the boss of me, Jones.”

“Marty made me his assistant. That makes me the boss of you. Now go to work.”

He finished the inventory and laid the inventory check sheet on the counter. “Fill out the purchase requests and bring them to the office.”

Sam decided to walk around the marina and check out the boats, fixing a loose mooring line, trash on the dock—all liabilities for the club. He’d worked there for six months and knew the troublesome members.

During the summer season, the marina worked on a skeleton crew. The members who owned the majority of the boats and yachts berthed there only wintered in the area. They just needed to keep them maintained and as secure as possible in case of a hurricane. It might be hotter than Hades, but it was also a good time to live in southwest Florida. Restaurants uncrowded, no dodging snowbird traffic, or “q-tips” as the local kids called them, because, from behind over a car’s headrest, all that anyone could see of a driver was white hair.

Activity at the dock was slow, and he took a break around two p.m. He flopped down in a lounge chair under the covered patio to eat his ice cream cone and enjoy the view. Giant thunderheads were building on the horizon, and like clockwork, by three in the afternoon, the sky would open up and dump rain on the city.

The marina office was in his line of sight, and his skin prickled a bit as he saw Marty and Frankie emerge. As Frankie started to walk away, Marty grabbed his arm and stuck a finger in his face. They were arguing. Sam had his suspicions they were dealing drugs at the club, but no proof. There had to be a reason that Marty didn’t fire Frankie despite his tardiness and insolence.

Sam got up. There was a water hose that needed to be wound on the reel. Bill Tanner never recoiled the hose when he sprayed off his boat but left it lying in the middle of the dock. He had just hung the hose up with the task when Brady’s big Hatteras came into the bay. He marveled at the skill of the captain as he eased the sixty-foot yacht into the berth. He tied off the dock lines and waited to assist Brady and his guests off the boat. As he suspected, several were drunk.

He and the captain unloaded the gear and coolers and aided the unsteady men. Brady was drunk, loud, and yelling at the captain to get the fish they caught to the dining room for dinner that night. The men headed to the fitness center for showers.

Sam watched as Brady parted company with his guests and headed toward the marine store. He wasn’t inside long but came out slipping something in his pocket. Sam’s spidey sense kicked in. Something was going on at the yacht club, and he was pretty confident it was drug dealing.

Marty left at five. Sam scoffed—the manager enjoyed bankers’ hours. The marina closed at seven in the summer. However, members with keycards could come and go as they pleased. A dock assistant stayed until ten p.m. if anyone needed gas, and a security guard worked overnight. Tired after a long, sweltering day, Sam locked the office at seven and headed home in a raging thunderstorm.

~~~

Sam stood in the shower under the strong spray until the water became tepid. He was drying off when his phone rang. He padded into the living room, where he’d left his cell, and answered.

“Sam, how are things going?”

“Hey, Tim. Caught me in tonight. Nasty storm out there. Brady’s getting active. He’s been taking groups of what he calls associates out to fish. They are at the club now having dinner, but I doubt he’s taking the boat out again tonight. If he does, I’ll know. Pretty sure Marty and Frankie are dealing drugs out of the marine store but hard to get proof. And I don’t have enough to get a surveillance warrant yet. Judges don’t like ‘I think’ as a reason for a warrant.”

Tim chuckled. “No, they don’t. With Brady in New York for three months, it screwed up our operation.”

“Tell me about it. I’m now the assistant marina manager.”

“Coming up in the world, Sam.”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“Okay, I have the Coast Guard and DEA on standby. We go on your signal.”

“I think Brady is lining up buyers, and I suspect the drop will come soon.”

“We’ll be ready.”

Brady made his money in the 1990s as a venture capitalist. He survived the dot.com era with loads of money, tainted money if the rumors were correct, and that Brady participated in some shady deals. There were a few members of the club Sam suspected might be involved. People who made too much money and possessed no clues about how to handle it. Brady, however, was his target.

His stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten since the ice cream cone. Food delivery to the rescue—then sleep. Tomorrow he needed to snoop about the marina store.

~~~

Friday dawned as hot and sticky as the previous day. By ten a.m. Sam’s marina shirt was sticking to his torso, and sweat poured down his brow. The weekends during the summer were not as hectic as those during the winter season, but the heat made each task harder to accomplish. Parched, he headed toward the snack bar when he saw two members walk into the marine store. The store sold bottled water. He’d go there.

Sam pushed the door open. Both members looked over their shoulders, eyes widened. Frankie dropped his hands beneath the counter, out of sight. Sam cocked his head toward the cooler.

“Just getting water. Put it on my employee tab, please.”

Frankie nodded, and Sam took a water bottle and stopped before he left and spoke to the members. “Everything okay with your berths? Anything you need done? Now’s a good time while it’s slow.”

One man glanced at the other then responded. “No, you guys do a great job. Everything’s great.”

“Good. Just let us know.” Sam exited the store and headed to the nearest boat, where he appeared to be checking a rope knot. He had a clear line of sight to the store, and in a matter of seconds, the two members left and headed for the clubhouse.

He’d had all the employees checked out. Frankie had misdemeanor charges for shoplifting and petty theft as a teenager. Sam questioned Marty about Frankie’s hire, considering the club had strict rules against hiring anyone with a record. Marty tossed it off—somebody’s nephew, a favor, or someone owed a favor. Not the case at all. Frankie was here for a reason.

Brady arrived about two in the afternoon with six men. Sam recognized two of them, drug cartel members from Peru and Mexico. From the accents, the others were foreign as well. They retired to a private dining room for lunch, and Sam’s frustration grew. There was never enough evidence to get wiretaps, so no one was listening.

Sam watched, waited for Brady to leave. His target always left the club by the rear entrance, usually walking to his boat for a quick look over. He didn’t disappoint. Brady headed to his boat, guests in tow. Sam grabbed his phone, holding it up to his ear as if he were talking, and tapped the button and took a blast of photos. After the men were out of sight, he texted the photos to Tim, hoping to ID the men and find out who Brady was buddying up with—bad players without a doubt.

The afternoon was slow, and Sam left around six. With the forecast for a calm sea, he grabbed chicken wings for dinner and planned to head to his favorite spot to watch the boat traffic and wait for Brady to take a night spin.

His twenty-seven-foot Boston Whaler Dauntless, his pride and joy, was in a slip at the condo he rented. He drove a ten-year-old beat-up Ford, but the boat was his passion. The reason his superiors chose him to go undercover at the yacht club was his boating knowledge. As he backed out of his berth, he chuckled. At least he had a new career should he decide to leave the FBI. As he idled through the no-wake zone, Tim called.

“You hit the mother-load. We ID’ed four of the men Brady had lunch with today, all members of drug cartels—a Mexican, Canadian, Peruvian, and Slovakian. Still working on the other two, but no doubt they are cartel members as well. Rivers at DEA thinks Brady is putting together a global cartel. That is a recipe for a blood bath. DEA and Coast Guard are upping patrols in the area, and we have a team watching the marina. So if you need backup, yell.”

Sam thanked him and cruised toward the old pilings of dock along the shore, near the opening to the Gulf. He shut off the motor and drifted to a piling where he loosely tied a rope to a mooring ring. Then he waited.

There were thunderheads in the distance over the Gulf, but the sky above him was clear, and he could see a myriad of stars. He gazed upward, his eye catching a moving light that crisscrossed the sky—DEA planes looking for boats smuggling drugs. There were more of those in the Gulf than the average citizen knew.

He watched as boats out for night fishing moved toward their favorite spots. A dive boat went by, loud music and laughter, as they headed for their dive site. He waited as he had many nights for Brady to make a move. He wasn’t foolish enough to think that Brady would be present if a shipment of drugs came in, but the man’s ego was enormous. He would want to see his prize. Sam counted on that.

Clouds were moving in, and streaks of neon pink lightning struck the water in the distance. So much for calm seas, and he considered heading back when his phone dinged—a text from Tim.

DEA spotted small freighter deviating from filed route, heading for your location, Coast Guard and DEA on intercept. Surveillance reports Brady left house, appears en route to marina.

Sam untied the mooring line and started the Whaler. He needed to get to the marina first.

As he eased up to the gas dock, the hair stood up on the back of his neck. The night dock assistant should have left the booth as soon as he saw the boat approach. He didn’t. He knew the kid on duty. Wally was responsible, he wouldn’t have left the dock with an arriving boat. Something was wrong. He pulled his gun and badge from a compartment, tucked the gun in his back waistband, his badge in a pocket.

He nudged the dock, slung a rope over a deck cleat, then hopped out of the boat, tying off the rope line. As he turned around, heat flushed through him, but he remained stoic. Marty was standing in front of him.

“Sam, what brings you here so late? And that’s a pretty expensive boat for a marina jockey.”

“Not mine, taking it out for a friend, said the motor was skipping. Need to fuel up, so I stopped for gas.” Sam unscrewed the gas cap on the gunwale. “What are you doing out here so late? Where’s Wally?”

“Called me, sick. I sent him home.”

“Oh, okay. Well, going to fill this up so I can get this boat back to my buddy.”

Sam reached for the gas pump nozzle, risking taking his eyes off Marty. That was a mistake. A sharp blow to the back of the head, and he fell to the deck unconscious.

~~~

He woke up. His nostrils were full of the stench of oil, lubricant, and disinfectant. He was in the chemical shed where they kept cans of oil and cleaning supplies. He lay on his side in a fetal position, his hands and feet tied. There was a body next to him.

“Wally? You alive?”

“Yeah, man. What the hell is going on? Frankie showed up, and he hit me. I woke up here.”

“Are you facing me?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you get to my hands and try to untie me?”

“I’ll try. Gonna have to use my teeth.”

“Try, I’ll pay your dental bill.”

Several agonizing minutes passed as Wally tugged on the knot with his teeth. Sam was about to give up when the rope came loose. He rolled over and began untying the rope around his ankles.

“Good job.”

Wally snickered. “Bad knot.”

Sam freed Wally, then cracked open the door. The shed sat behind the booth the dock assistants used. He figured his gun and phone were in there.

“Wally, stay put and do not make a sound. I think I can make it to the booth and get my gun and phone.”

“Gun? Who the hell are you?”

“I’m an FBI agent here undercover. Stay put.”

Another glance out the door, then Sam dashed the booth. The small booth had room for a desk, a file cabinet, two chairs, entry on the side, and a window to the front. He slipped inside and peeked out the window. Marty and Frankie were standing next to his Whaler. Carefully, Sam opened the window so he could hear them.

“Bastard is a Fed. They’re on to us, Marty. We need to get out of here.”

“We aren’t going anywhere, not until we get our share. Mr. Brady said after the shipment arrived, he’d send us to Mexico. We can lie low there awhile. We’re gonna be rich, and remember, if you weren’t my nephew, you wouldn’t be here.”

“If this goes bad, they’re gonna kill us.”

“Shut up. When Brady gets here, we’ll take this boat. No one will recognize it.”

“Why does he want to go out there?”

“He wants to watch the first exchange of the cargo, $250 million worth. Brady risked a lot getting this new cartel together. He wants to gloat.”

Sam found his phone, gun, and badge, and Wally’s phone in a drawer. He texted Tim.

Ship carrying 250M of coke. Brady on his way here. Marty and Frankie part of this. Caught me but escaped, have gun. Will keep them at the dock until team gets here.

He checked the magazine in his Glock Gen 5—full, so he had ten rounds. It would have to do.

Tim texted. Roger. FBI and LEO notified. ETA 7 mins. Agents following Brady report approaching marina.

As Sam was about to respond, Brady walked into view. Brady’s here.

“Nice boat, where’d you get this?

“Sam, my assistant. Bastard’s FBI. He was snooping around. Got him and that snot kid Wally tied up in the chemical shed.”

“FBI? Let’s get out of here. Well, take the Whaler to go to freighter and then you guys drop me off at my house and leave town. You know the drop for your money and passports. I’ll send someone to clean up this mess and be out of town behind you.”

Sam couldn’t wait. He stepped into the open, gun raised. “It’s over, Brady. We know what you are up to, and you’re going down for this. DEA and Coast Guard have already found the freighter. Your global cartel is dead in the water.”

Brady pulled a gun from his hip, shooting at Sam. The bullet ricocheted off the gas pump and barely missed striking Sam, who fired back. Brady was fast for a man his size and pulled Frankie in front of him. Sam’s round struck Frankie in the abdomen. Brady threw him aside and fired again. Sam ducked behind the booth and saw Wally stick his head out the door. “Get back inside!”

He had to draw fire away from Wally. He moved to the far corner of the booth. “Brady, my team is almost here. Give up. You have nowhere to go.” 

Sam heard shuffling around the corner and reacted just as Marty appeared, gun in hand. They fired simultaneously. Marty’s bullet missed. Sam’s did not. Marty dropped to the concrete, and Sam kicked the gun away and stepped into the open.

Brady was on the Whaler, at the wheel. “Stop, Brady. It’s over.”

Brady fired again and turned the key on the Whaler.

Hearing footsteps and yells of “FBI” from behind, Sam fired, and Brady slumped over the wheel.

Sam lowered his weapon. “Great, there’s blood on my boat.”

~~~

A week later, Sam and Tim were sitting on the Whaler in the bay. It was midday, sun hot and beer cold.

“Sam, hell of a bust. When Brady gets out of the hospital, he is facing serious charges. When you get back to Tampa, the office has a party planned. And so you know, Frankie and Marty are chattering like little birds. We’ve got him. And got a lot of members for buying drugs.”

Sam smiled. “That we do.” He ran his hand across the captain’s chair. “And the blood is gone.” 

A rumble of thunder drifted from a bank of thunderheads, lightning flashing across the sky. Sam smiled. Nothing better than a good cleansing thunderstorm.

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

Paula Shablo: No Ferry Today, Part 6

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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No Ferry Today, Part 6

Paula Shablo

A group of islanders had gathered on the beach in front of The Beach Bar. They weren’t right up close to the water, out of experienced respect for the tide. They had dragged the abandoned beach chairs up closer to the front of the little restaurant/bar, added several others, and sat together, staring out to sea.

They were trying, in the waning light, to get a glimpse of the mainland.

Impossible.

As the day had moved inexorably toward dusk, they became more anxious, and now sat hoping for the return of Devin’s little skiff and a reunion with their companions.

“That’s not fog,” Vivian declared.

A few people jumped at the sound of her voice. They had been silent for quite some time—probably since the twins had drifted off to sleep on big beach towels in front of their parents’ feet.

“What do you—” Monique began.

“I can hardly see a lick, and even I know that’s not fog,” Vivian continued.

“It’s smoke.” Elvin said this with complete conviction.

“Yes,” Vivian agreed. “Something terrible has happened on the mainland.”

“Like what?” Monique demanded.

“Like…an explosion. A fire.”

“A bombing.” Elvin, emphatic once more; and yet, his voice was incredibly steady and calm.

“How do you—?”

“Know? I don’t. But…that’s smoke, okay? And it covers the whole horizon. We can’t see the mainland at all. What else would be that big? One fire? Or several?”

“Jesus,” Barnaby groaned.

Vivian’s face was a pale mask. Behind thick lenses, her eyes were red and puffy. She wasn’t crying—at least not yet. But it was a near thing.

Bill watched her with some concern—she was no spring chicken, and her light and love had sailed off in a skiff, headed for the mainland, hours ago.

Jessica slipped an arm around her. “What can we do?” she asked.

“I’d like to go to the docks,” Vivian replied. “Will you walk with me?”

“Of course.”

“I’ll go, too,” Bill offered.

Barnaby looked at Lou Ann and at Paul and Pam, sleeping at their feet. He couldn’t imagine how his wife would feel if he’d been one of the people who’d left the island.

~*~

When he and Elvin had returned to The Beach Bar earlier in the day, Lou Ann and Monique had joined Vivian, Bill and Jessica’s quest to check on the others who lived on the island.

They busied themselves hauling beach chairs and setting them up in front of the little building.

When everyone had made their way back, they sat staring out at the water. Lou Ann told them about speaking with her father.

“I asked Daddy if there had ever been a time when the ferry didn’t make the regular run. He said the only time he could remember was when Pearl Harbor was bombed.” Lou Ann raised a hand and bit her fingernail. “That was years before I was born, and Dad was just a little boy—I can’t believe he even remembers, but he said his father was upset so it stuck in his mind.”

“That’s all the way on the other side of the country!” Barnaby protested.

“Upset about the ferry, or about Pearl Harbor?” Vivian asked dryly.

Lou Ann gaped, then burst out laughing. “I would imagine Pearl Harbor,” she said, “but what do I know?”

Vivian turned to Barnaby. “As to where Pearl Harbor is in relation to us, I suppose all water-based vessels were told to stay put.”

Barnaby shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense,” he reasoned. “Look at the time difference.”

“Maybe it was the next day,” Lou Ann argued impatiently. “Dad wasn’t much older than the twins when it happened. It’s not like we can ask Grandpa.”

“Not without a medium.” Elvin spoke in an offhand manner. It was absolute truth, and silenced everyone for a while.

Finally, Monique turned to Lou Ann and said, “Your dad’s that old? Aren’t you, like, my age? My grandpa was barely old enough for World War II!”

Lou Ann shrugged. “I’m the only child of his second marriage, after his first wife died. Mom’s a lot younger—I think I was a big surprise, though.”

“Well, for a guy in his—what? Eighties?—he looks fantastic.”

Lou Ann grinned. “Yeah, he does.”

It spoke volumes that the last time anyone remembered the ferry missing its trip was the end of 1941.

Something terrible had happened.

~*~

Barnaby smiled at his wife. “You mind if I go along to the dock, too?”

“No, go ahead.” Lou Ann nodded her head at the twins. “You wore them out—they’ll sleep all night, if we let them.”

Elvin said, “I’ll be here with the ladies, kicking back with a beer. If you need me, holler. I’ll hear you.”

“You know,” Bill said, “I’m surprised more people haven’t come down here to the beach. Everyone we talked to this afternoon said they’d rather stay home.”

“I’m not surprised,” Monique replied. “I’d be home, too, if I hadn’t already been out when all this started.”

“Would you?”

She stared at the ground, thoughtful. Finally, she raised her eyes to meet his. “If Margo wasn’t out there—yeah. I’d be home.”

It wasn’t a long walk to the docks, but the sun was getting low in the west and they made their way slowly. Vivian’s vision wasn’t great in daylight; in low light it was terrible. They led her carefully.

As they got near, Bill snapped his fingers. “We need lights,” he said. “I’m going to run back and get some lanterns or flashlights or something.”

“What for?” Jessica demanded. “The power’s still on.”

“Just in case.” Bill shrugged. “I don’t feel good about this. I don’t want to be standing there in the dark.”

Barnaby muttered, “I’m not so sure I want to be putting myself in the spotlight.”

Vivian turned to Bill. “Go, Bill. Get your lights. Flashlights, so we can look out at the water. I think they’re coming. I feel it.”

Bill turned and sprinted back up the beach.

When he returned he had two large torches with lights as big as Barnaby’s twins’ heads.

The tide came in as the sun went down, and across the reach, clouds had gathered in the sky above the smoke banks. Suddenly, there was a crackling flash, and then another, of lightning. It cut through the smoke and gave them a quick glimpse of the opposite shore.

There were no lights on over there.

Thunder crashed; crashed again. The storm was close enough to shake the dock under their feet.

The next flash of lightning lit the water in front of them. They could see the skiff moving toward them. Bill and Barnaby switched the torches on and shone them across the water.

“Oh, thank God! Thank God!”

It was Margo—Bill would know that voice anywhere.

“Melvin!” Vivian called.

“We’re coming, honey!”

Boom! Thunder followed close on the heels of the last lighting flash.

“We’re in for it now,” Jessica said, and sure enough, the rain started pouring down.

“Jesus, that moved in fast!” Barnaby cried.

Now that they could see their goal, Melvin, Devin and Margo rowed faster, and soon enough Bill and Barnaby were hauling them in and tying the skiff to the dock.

They all hurried up the dock to the beach and made their way quickly back to The Beach Bar.

Monique and Lou Ann had gotten the toddlers inside just in time to stay dry. Everyone else was drenched.

Tablecloths were fetched to use as towels, and the group sat down together after a few moments of chaotic cussing.

“Well?” Elvin asked, once everyone had settled down. “What happened?”

Margo, Melvin and Devin exchanged glances and Margo burst into tears.

“Oh, shit.” Bill sighed.

Melvin said. “Yup. You got that right.”

To be continued….

Please visit Paula on her blog for other parts of this story and other great stories: https://paulashablo.com/

Riham El-Ashry: Skull Face

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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Skull Face

Riham El-Ashry 

Manu grabbed the iron bars of the only window in the jail room where he was kept. Pulling his body up as hard as he could, he shouted for help. Although there was no answer for two days, he insisted on calling them to stop. 

“This is a mistake. You all are committing a big mistake,” Manu yelled in agony. 

Tired and disheartened, Manu crouched on the damp floor, lowered his head on his knees, and thought of Oriana. What would become of her? Though he knew she was in great danger, he couldn’t do anything to save her. His fourteen-year-old, golden-haired friend had been locked in the great temple on the opposite side of the island. One day we were together and the other we were doomed. 

His jaws stiffened as he heard an unexpected noise outside his cell. A cautious knock on the door startled his senses, and a key turned slowly. To his surprise, when the door opened he saw a ghost. A man’s figure with a skull face motioned his hand to Manu to follow. Manu stuck his back to the far wall in the dim spot of the small room pretending he didn’t exist. However, his attempt failed; his whole body shivered when the ghost crushed his hand and dragged him out. 

The ghost’s black hooded cloak flapped in the dark silence as they walked down the tunnel. It twisted abruptly and seemed to narrow downward. Hurrying his way behind the big hooded man, Manu doubted there would be an opening at the end of the tunnel. For a second, he thought of knocking the mysterious figure down and run away but then realized he had no choice. After a while, Manu smelled the sea, and in no time they reached the shore. 

They walked along the shore and passed a big rock that stood alone fighting against the eroding tide waves. Manu stopped for a moment, a sweet memory of two young people flashed quickly. A weary smile wanted to invade his face but was killed effortlessly. What could have happened to Oriana now

The ghost’s silence was irritating, Manu snatched the huge man’s arm and halted his steps. “Where are you taking me? Who are you? Why do you help me?” he exclaimed, pulling himself away in anger. 

The man touched his skull mask making sure it was fairly fixed. “I’m helping you because you are right.” 

“Do you believe me?” Manu’s surprise overcame his pleasure to know there was someone who believed him. “What about the Holy Priest? The Chief? And all the crazy believers on the island?” 

At the horizon, a huge menacing form was conceiving. Lightning was the first sign of the looming death ahead and cast two shadows on the wet sand. Both men were now alerted to move faster—the storm was getting nearer. Waves crashed louder on the shore, but Manu could hear his heartbeat against the booming thunder. 

“Hurry, there is no time to waste,” the masked face said. “I’ll take you to Oriana. Then, you can take her out of the island.” 

“Why do you help us? And how can I take her off the island?” 

Manu stumbled as they scrambled up a slippery hill. Rain poured and the sea roared beneath them. As they reached the top, the masked man stopped and pointed to a building down the hill. It had pillars and was divided into big sections. The enormous northern gate was opened, and many monks were busy arranging for the holy ceremony. In the front hall, a big cage, ornamented with colorful flowers and green boughs, waited in the middle of the spacious yard. 

“Here, take this and run to the back doors. Skip the guard and find the sacrifice room. Free her and leave, and sai…” The apprehensive look on Manu’s face caused a sudden halt. 

The man looked down only to see his plans fail. The cage now held the beautiful, golden-haired Oriana in an adorned blue dress. Her hair was styled in smooth curls around her fair, calm face. Pretty rare-shaped shells pinned in her hair. Around her cage stood the monks while the common rushed through the open gate. 

No! We aren’t too late. It wasn’t supposed to begin now. He couldn’t fathom the reason till a harsh voice announced the holy festival. And it dawned on him. He had to act promptly before it was really too late. But before he could figure out any move, and to their dismay, the cage was carried out the gates heading towards the sea. 

Descending in a hurry, almost shuffling down the slope, the masked-face man was on the beach’s sand in seconds. Followed by Manu, he thought they had a couple of minutes ahead of the faithful crowd. 

“You go this way,” he pointed towards the sacrifice rock, “wait there and make sure nobody gets a glance of you.”

“How can you get her out of their hands? Who…? Are you…?” Manu approached the man’s face to uncover his identity but was rejected with a hard punch in his chest. 

“Go quickly. We need to save her life first.”

His legs trembling and eyes reddened furiously, Manu jumped and snatched the mask off and revealed the most unexpected face. 

“The Great Priest??” He was startled and looked at the priest in astonishment. His mind could not grasp what was going on. But noises of the rabble were approaching and becoming louder every second. 

“Do as I told you. Trust me.”

Dubiously, Manu ran toward the shore, jumped, and swam to the sacrifice rock. The sea roared and fiercely hit him with massive waves. The tide covered nearly half of the rock, lightning sparkled every few seconds, and the sea was at its utmost rage. The devilish storm was moving faster toward the shore. Manu could hardly hang to a bruised stone when a huge wild wave swept him down. 

The crowd had lost some of its followers; those who feared the rage of the Sea God had fled to shelter in the woods. The high monk was leading them and the cage with the young girl to the rock. The only way to soothe the Sea God was to sacrifice a girl in the storm, or else it would demolish their villages and destroy the whole island. The helpless girl kept calm, maybe content to give her life for the sake of others, but surely hopeless of any struggle to escape. It was her destiny. It was the decision of god; she was chosen this year. 

 In the meantime, the Great Priest confronted the crawling mob, tried to cease their progress to the waters. After a struggle, his voice was heard and he began his words by praising the Sea God and their faith. He was gaining time till Manu emerged from behind the rock to pursue the plan. But Manu did not, and the high monk suspected what was going on in the Priest’s head.

“There is no need for procrastination.” The high monk smirked at the Priest who was cornered in the worst situation he could have ever imagined. 

“No, wait,” the Priest yielded. “There is no need for a sacrifice. It is a tradition I invented many decades ago. This girl is innocent and her death won’t calm the sea. The storm will destroy some property like every year. Throwing a young woman into the sea won’t change a thing.” 

The high monk glanced cunningly at the devastated Priest, and gestured to the angry gathering to quiet. “The Great Priest wants to save our daughters from this fate.”

Another monk shouted among the crowd, “Why would he do this? Specifically this time. She must be his own daughter.” 

The noise of the mob grew louder and louder and in this state of collective insanity, they pushed the cage off the rock into the violent waves of the sea. And there was silence. The Great Priest sobbed, the crowd hurried back into the land, the monks smiled, but the storm reached the shore mercilessly. 

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Lynn Miclea: Lightning

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: This story contains domestic violence and child abuse.

Lightning

Lynn Miclea

Sylvia bit her lip, trying to suppress the tears. Finally unable to hold back any longer, she grabbed her pillow and collapsed on her bed, sobbing.

Twenty minutes later, gasping and choking on tears, she got up and looked back at the bed to make sure there was no blood left on the pillow. None. Good. Her father had not broken her skin this time with the beating. But she knew there would be bruises. And they would be bad.

She couldn’t live like this anymore. Only ten years old and she hated her life. It wasn’t living anyway. It was barely surviving on an hour-to-hour basis. And she might not survive another beating. She had to get out.

As quietly as she could, she tiptoed to her bedroom door and listened. Nothing.

She cautiously opened the door a crack and peered out. All quiet. She quickly grabbed her cell phone and a key, and listened again at the slightly open door. Nothing.

Then voices. Her father’s enraged voice yelling somewhere downstairs. He was always angry about something. Sylvia’s stomach knotted up. Maybe she should wait. This might not be a good time.

Her mother’s voice yelled back. “Henry, stop yelling at me! You can’t talk to me like that!”

“I can talk to you any way I want. I’m the man of this house, and you will do what I say. I set the rules here, not you.”

A loud slapping sound carried upstairs, and Sylvia’s stomach clenched as she heard her mother cry. “Henry, please …”

“No! I’ve had it with you and the kid. I’m done with both of you.”

“Henry, stop. No. You can’t —”

A gunshot rang out.

Then silence.

Sylvia could barely breathe. Her gut ached and she felt nauseous. She had to get out of there now. Gagging, trying not to throw up, she ran down the stairs and out the front door.

Her father’s voice thundered behind her. “Hey! Get back here!”

Sylvia ran as fast as she could. Down the driveway, down the street, down the next block. Gasping for air, her stomach in spasms, her legs aching. She kept running.

Was he following her? She quickly glanced behind her but saw just shadows. Was fear obstructing her vision? Was he there? She couldn’t tell. He was relentless. Tears stung her eyes and her chest burned. She continued running. Down another street toward the lake.

Heavy gray clouds, threatening rain, hung in the dark sky. She didn’t care. It didn’t matter what the weather was or where she ran. She just needed to run.

Footsteps sounded behind her. No! Tears ran down her face and she couldn’t see where she was stepping. Suddenly tripping over a rock, she quickly caught herself, wheezed, and stopped, gasping for breath. She looked behind her. She couldn’t see anyone. Then she saw him — a hulking shadow, fists clenched, coming toward her. He would kill her this time. She knew it.

Glancing out over the lake, she briefly wondered if she would survive this. A flash of lightning lit up the sky. What was she doing? Where would she go? She couldn’t even find shelter from the gathering storm, so how could she escape the wrath of her father? He was bigger and stronger and would find her wherever she went. His rage always kept him going.

Another flash of lightning that seemed to reflect the terror in her heart and the downward crash of her life. She usually loved lightning and would have loved watching it, but now terror rushed through her. Sylvia shivered and a sob escaped her. She had no idea where to go, but she had to get away. She had to keep running.

Weak and exhausted, she turned to run. Footsteps again sounded behind her, this time louder and closer. Then her father’s voice. “You’re not gonna get away, you little bitch. It’s your fault your mother died. And when I get ahold of you, I’m gonna —”

She couldn’t listen anymore. Sobs wracked her body and she could barely take a step. Doubling over, she grabbed her gut, trying to breathe. She couldn’t go on.

Tires squealed next to her and a cop car pulled over. A police officer leaned out the window. “Are you okay? Do you need help?”

Sylvia choked on a sob. Would a cop believe her? What if the cop believed her father? What if the cop believed she caused the death of her mother? She glanced behind her at her father now twenty feet away, and then looked at the police officer, her eyes wide with panic and fear. “I … I …”

Her father’s voice cut through the air. “You’re gonna regret this, Sylvia. Don’t be stupid.”

The police officer got out of the car and glanced back and forth between Sylvia and her father.

Sylvia stammered, not knowing who he would believe. “He … he …”

Her father called out. “Come back home, Sylvia. You belong home. Let’s go.” He glanced at the cop. “She’s fine, there’s no problem here.”

The cop looked at Sylvia, and she knew the bruises on her face were visible. “Did he hurt you?”

A flash of lightning lit up the sky and thunder boomed, making her jump. Sylvia gasped as fat drops of rain hit the pavement.

She did not want to make things worse, but she could not lie. She gave a quick nod, her eyes staring at the ground.

Her father’s gruff voice was calmer now. “Don’t listen to her, she makes up stories. She’s mentally disturbed, and I’m taking care of her. She needs to be home. She ran off again, like she often does. She gets delusional. I’m just bringing her back home so she can be safe.”

The cop turned to Sylvia. “Is that true? Is that your father? Does he take care of you?”

She stared at the cop, then slowly nodded. “Yes. I live there. But … he … he … please don’t make me go back.” What should she tell him? And why would he believe her anyway?

The father took a step closer, his face menacing and angry. “C’mon, Sylvia, come back home. It’s time to go. Stop telling lies. Don’t bother the nice officer. You need to come home where you belong.”

Sylvia stepped back, her eyes wide with fear.

The cop stood between them and addressed Sylvia. “Do you want to go back with him?”

Her mouth opened but no sound came out at first. Then her voice was small. “No, please …”

“Did he make those bruises on your face?”

“Yes.” Her voice was barely audible.

The father put his hands on his hips. “Look, she’s my daughter. She ran off like a wild kid, and I have a right to get my daughter and bring her back home.”

The cop hesitated.

“I also have a right to discipline her as I see fit. She’s my daughter and it was for her own good. And I intend to bring her back home. Even you can’t stop me.”

The cop held up a hand. “Wait a minute. I’d like to talk to her first.”

The father took a gun out of his pocket. “I said she’s coming home with me. I have every right to bring her home.”

The officer instantly brought up his weapon and aimed it directly at the father. “Drop it. Drop the gun.”

“No. She needs to come home. I’m not leaving without her.” The man waved the gun in the air.

The officer’s voice was strong and commanding. “Drop the gun! Now!”

Sylvia gasped and stepped back.

The father began to lower his hand holding the gun, and then he quickly brought it back up, aiming it at the cop.

Three deafening gunshots pierced the air.

Sylvia squeezed her eyes closed and held her breath. After a minute, she opened her eyes. Her father lay on the sidewalk, blood pooling under him.

She stared in horror as the officer radioed Dispatch for backup and an ambulance.

The cop turned to her. “Do you need a ride home?”

“I … I … can’t go home.”

“Why not?”

“He … he shot my mom. I don’t know if she’s still alive.”

Brilliant lightning flashed across the dark sky. If only those flashes could bring peace now instead of fear.

“What’s your address? We’ll get someone over there.”

Sylvia recited the address, and the cop radioed Dispatch for a unit and an ambulance to go to that address.

After he switched off the radio, he looked at her for a few moments. “Do you have another relative who you can stay with for a while?”

Sylvia nodded. “My grandma. My mom’s mom.”

“Okay, I’ll need to ask you a few questions first and hear your side of what happened. Then we’ll get you over to your grandma’s place, okay?” He paused and looked around as sirens sounded, getting louder and closer. “Help is on the way, so just stay right here and wait for me, okay?”

Sylvia stood there, shivering, as the rain began to increase and another flash of lightning lit up the sky.

***

Dripping wet and shaking, Sylvia hesitantly walked into her grandma’s house as the officer stood on the porch and watched. The elderly woman stretched out her arms and hugged Sylvia, holding her close and kissing the top of her head. “I’m so sorry, dear. Are you okay?”

Sylvia nodded and stifled a sob.

The cop looked in from the open doorway. “Ma’am, could I speak with you for a few minutes?”

“Yes, of course.” She turned to Sylvia. “I’ll be right back, sweetie. You sit here on the couch and relax, and I’ll be back as soon as I’ve talked to the officer.”

Sylvia took a deep breath and sat on the green flowered sofa. A combination of fear, confusion, and sadness overtook her. She looked around her grandma’s familiar living room, overwhelmed and not knowing what to think.

A few words from her grandma’s conversation with the officer drifted to her. “Oh no … dead … are you sure … that man was no good … I was always afraid this might happen … yes … she can stay here … thank you, Officer.”

Her grandma came over to the couch. “I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

Sylvia looked up and saw tears in her grandma’s eyes. “Is my mom …”

Her grandma nodded, her face pale. “Yes, honey. She died. He killed her.”

Sylvia nodded. “And my dad?”

Her grandma’s face was grim. “He died too. He died on the way to the hospital.” She looked at Sylvia, her eyes filled with love, concern, and sadness. “It will be okay. You’re the most precious thing left of my beautiful daughter, and you look just like her. I love you with all my heart.” She paused and then continued. “No one will ever hurt you again.”

Sylvia stared at her grandma, not comprehending what was being said. She took a deep breath and started crying softly.

Her grandma leaned over and hugged her. “It’s okay, honey. You’re safe here with me. You will always be safe with me.” She rubbed Sylvia’s back. “You can cry as much as you want. But know that things will get better. You’ll see. They’ll be different, but things will get better.” She stood up. “Oh, I have something special for you.”

She went into her bedroom and came back a few minutes later with a small white box. Sitting on the couch next to Sylvia, she handed her the box. “This was your mom’s, and I think she’d like you to have it.” Sylvia stared at the box. “Go on, open it.”

Sylvia slowly opened the box. A sparkling ceramic white lightning bolt on a black background was set in gold and hung from a gold chain. She carefully took out the necklace and gazed at the beautiful piece.

“Your mom loved lightning and thunder.” Her grandma smiled as she reminisced. “At one time back in school she played with ceramics and made this. It was my favorite piece that she made, and she gave it to me way back then.” She sighed. “Over the years, she never lost her interest in lightning. She used to say that lightning was exciting and dramatic and changed everything. She said it gave her hope that something new and better was coming.” She paused and shook her head wistfully. “I found this piece recently and decided to make it into a necklace. I was going to give it to her on her next birthday.” She blinked back tears and choked on her words. “But I think now you should have it.”

Sylvia’s eyes opened wide as she admired the jewelry. She never realized that her mom liked lightning too. Closing her eyes, she held it over her heart and took a deep breath. Could something new and better be coming? She put the chain over her neck and turned to her grandma. “How does it look?”

Her grandma smiled. “It looks like love,” she said softly. “Love and hope.”

—————————————–

Copyright © 2021 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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

Lisa Criss Griffin: The Unexpected 

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 Unexpected 

Lisa Criss Griffin

The Czar of World Region One opened a new vial of hybrid blood elixir with relish, anticipating the unusually intense euphoria he was about to experience. Ever since he ordered the increased production of this intoxicant, his newly placed scientists had found a way to increase the strength of the highly coveted libation known as ERE. 

He was thrilled that his ERE was now more potent than the ERE produced in the other World Regions. Besides his addiction to ERE, made from the blood of human/lizard hybrids who were tortured unmercifully to produce the euphoric effects, the Czar reveled in his new power among the other Czars. They were willing to give him preferential treatment for the extraordinarily potent ERE, since they were all also highly addicted to the ruby elixir. 

The Czar swirled the potent elixir carefully in the glass tube, then poured it under his tongue. He allowed it to adsorb sublingually before swallowing the remaining crimson liquid. The intoxicant took effect quickly. He staggered and dropped into his soft leather chair, overcome by the euphoria pumping through his body. Goosebumps covered his skin as he gasped in delight. His pupils dilated, then, unbeknownst to him, elongated vertically. His tongue swept across his lips as he blinked. Waves of euphoria continued to pulse through his body. The Czar allowed himself to surrender to the intense pleasure, secure in the knowledge his calendar had been cleared for the next hour for this very reason.

Thirty minutes later, the disembodied voice of his administrative assistant interrupted him.

“Your Honor?”

“Don’t bother me now. You know better!”

“But…”

“Damnit! NOT NOW!”

The Czar pounded the hapless speaker on his desk into a crushed mass of plastic and electronic parts before settling back in his leather chair. He didn’t notice the damage to his left hand until the effects of the ERE subsided. Rising from his comfortable chair, he padded through the thick, beige carpet to his brightly lit, opulent bathroom.

Appreciative of the relief the cool flowing water gave his bruised, throbbing hand, The Czar glanced into the mahogany-framed mirror over the polished granite vanity. He bared his teeth, noting it was time for another whitening procedure. Glancing upward, he met his own eyes in the mirror. The Czar straightened in surprise.

“What the…?”

Blinking several times, he leaned closer to the mirror. He could have sworn his pupils appeared elongated, but they looked completely round now. He ran his uninjured hand through his graying hair in consternation as he continued to peruse his eyes. After a moment, he sighed, turned off the water and dried his hand with an expensive hand towel. The Czar glanced back in the mirror. Damn. He needed his hair tint touched up too.

He returned to his polished mahogany desk and plopped into the soft leather chair. A computer keyboard embedded in his desktop lit up at his verbal command. A large screen on the wall beyond his desk flicked on. Amelia, his administrative assistant, instantly materialized. She was absorbed in her work, not yet aware he was online. 

He stretched out his injured left hand to unmute his connection, but stopped. Turning his wrist, he brought his hand back towards his face. Surprise raced across his features as he noticed the bruising on his hand seemed to be slightly luminescent. He gently probed the bruise with fingers from his other hand, stopping immediately. The bruise seemed to burn slightly where his fingers touched his skin. He flexed his injured hand in frustration, then unmuted the connection.

“Amelia.”

Amelia’s head jerked up in surprise. She looked nervously into the screen, obviously aware of her recent faux pas. Her lilting voice was contrite as she answered him.

“I sincerely apologize for my inappropriate interruption, Your Honor.”

“You will take care not to let it happen again.”

“It will never happen again, Your Honor.”

“Very well. Now, what was so important?”

“The Cabal of Czars requested you join them in an online meeting as soon as you’re available. They were very unhappy when I couldn’t reach you.”

“Hmmmm. What was the reason for this meeting?”

“They did not divulge that information to me, Your Honor.”

“Alright. Did they provide the meeting code?”

“Yes.”

“Send it to me with high encryption. Oh, and when you get a chance, my desk speaker has…malfunctioned. I will need a new one. That is all for now.”

Amelia’s lovely face faded from view as he disconnected. The code arrived seconds later. The Czar logged into the meeting, curious as to why an unscheduled conference of the entire global leadership was ongoing. Nine frowning faces materialized on his screen, two of them obviously in a heated discussion. He reluctantly unmuted.

“…it is inconceivable we no longer have complete control over some of our regional climates!”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for my tardiness. It could not be helped. What is this talk of no longer having functional climate controls? Did I hear you correctly?”

“Yes, damnit, you heard correctly. Only a few of us are having issues, but they are significant.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Region Two has an unauthorized, unscheduled Cat 3 hurricane about to make landfall. It is not responding to our attempts to mitigate the storm.”

“Region Six is experiencing high winds and record sand storms. Obviously this was not authorized by my office. Nobody in my regional Climate Control seems to be able to lower the wind speed.”

“Wildfires are raging in Region Ten. Estimates suggest ten percent of my Region is burning. No fires were authorized by my Climatologists.”

“Hmmm. Yes, quite unusual. And concerning. Do we have a malfunction somewhere in the Master Climate Control Center?”

“Not that we know of. Our top technicians are combing through the Master Climate controls as we speak. These anomalies may only be…anomalies. But then again, maybe not. I recommend we all check the integrity of our own regional Climate Control systems, then reconvene.”

The Czars agreed and decided to meet again in seven days. The Czar of Region One clicked out of the meeting, surprised by the Climate Control failures. He quickly contacted his top Climatologist for an update of his Region. His face fell when he was informed there were unauthorized thunderstorms forming offshore of their southern coastline. Technically, the oceans weren’t included in the Regions. It was possible they were natural phenomena. He instructed his Climate team to keep him informed and ended the conversation. 

The Czar ambled over to the window, wondering if the thunderstorm previously scheduled for his city that afternoon would form as expected. He pulled a silk curtain away from the picture window in his office, unaware of the subtle glow emanating from the bruise on his hand. And from other places on his body that he had no knowledge of…yet. 

***

Ominous, dark purple clouds tumbled across the roiling ocean towards the southern coast of Region One. Sizzling spiderwebs of lightning crawled through the thunderheads as the storms gathered strength. By the time the burgeoning line of thunderstorms hit the coastline, enormous bolts of lightning were crashing to the ground and into the sea. The lightning storm intensified, shorting out power transformers and electrical equipment as it slowly marched through Region One, spreading out lengthwise as it traveled north. Eventually, the majority of cities, the capital city, and all of the Science Camps of the Region were adversely affected by massive power outages and flooding. 

***

The Guardian leaned back from his keyboard, watching the unexpected weather patterns batter various Regions on his huge computer screen with satisfaction. The Cabal of Czars had been very clever when they subjugated most of the world’s population to their tyranny. Now, it was possible their own hubris would be their downfall. What they never considered was a taste of their own medicine, on multiple levels equal to or greater than their own cunning. 

Maxwell waited impatiently for his satellite phone to ring, concerned the founder of the Guardian organization, his sister Melanie (a.k.a. Rory Dominic), had not checked in with him yet. The Guardian Team’s plan to disable the Cabal and restore liberty to their fellow citizens was enormously complicated and extremely dangerous. It had taken a long time to set all the cogs of the plan in motion. 

He fidgeted, trying not to worry. Moments ticked by, leaving him in agony. Where was she? Why didn’t she call? Had something gone wrong? There were so many things that could go wrong. Max was mentally willing Melanie to pick up her phone when the expected call from his twin sister lit up his private, highly encrypted line. The tall, muscular man grinned, jumped out of his chair and fist pumped the air enthusiastically before answering. Nothing could be better than the call of freedom!

***

Copyright ©️ 2021 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved 

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

TN Kerr: Dancing Key

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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Dancing Key

TN Kerr

Harry Harris had moored Niña, his Rhodes 22, at Swamp-Donkey Marina on the windward shore of Dancing Key in December of 1999. He hadn’t moved it again since. In those days, he had worried about all that Y2K shit, but his anxiety had been for nought — nothing had ever come of it. Dancing Key was a fine place to live and less expensive than Key West. His friend, Osvaldo, had a crab shack outside the marina gates. And the beautiful and most interesting Señorita Merisol Ibarra ran a watering hole called The Angels Trumpet right next door to that. At La Trompeta, the rum flowed freely, and the girls were friendly. Why would Harry want to go anywhere else? He’d finally found his home.

It was just before dawn in late September when Harry and Merisol again found themselves together on deck. They were enjoying the intimate afterglow that usually accompanied their rendezvous. Harry was occupied, pondering the funny way of pluralizing rendezvous when Merisol leaned into him with her unlit cigarette. Coquettishly she intimated the need for a light. He loved when she smiled, so he watched her face as he groped blindly for the lighter.

With her cigarette lit, she reached down and rubbed his leg, “¿Harry, podrías hacerme un Cuba Libre?”

He nodded, rose, and padded below decks, naked except for his old Marlins cap, pulled low over his eyes. When he came back topside, he carried two glasses coated with condensation and filled with light rum, Coke, and lime. When he stepped back on deck, he saw the excitement on her face. She was almost bouncing on the gunwale, waving her hand to the southeast.

“Look, Harry, look!” she almost shouted. “Un tormenta. A storm, a storm is coming! I adore storms, don’t you?”

Harry did like storms. Not quite as much as Merisol liked them, but he was glad that she liked them. Harry was up for it and walked past Merisol to sit on the transom, plonking his size 11s on the lazarette hatch. He held her glass out, and she scooted closer to take it, her feet up on the bench seat.

They sat watching the storm approach. Lightning silhouetted the clouds, the pilings, and Low Anchor Key that lay to the east. As the storm drew close, Harry paid more attention to Merisol than he did to the impending storm. He watched as the raindrops began to fall on her skin and pool in the hollow of her neck above her clavicle, watched as her dark hair grew heavy with raindrops and hung lower, softer, watched as she sipped her drink and as her eyes grew wider as she bit on her lower lip. Harry jumped with her when the lightning flashed, and she started when the thunder clapped overhead. He grew aroused as she moved closer, fitting her body to his.

He wanted the storm to last all night. He wanted Merisol to stay aboard Niña all night, something she had never done before. For reasons unexplained, she would always leave before dawn. Merisol was constantly returning home to her ramshackle cottage back behind the bar.

Please visit T. N. on WordPress: https://tnkerr.wordpress.com/2021/08/08/dancing-key/

Cheryl Ann Guido: Hill House

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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HILL HOUSE

Cheryl Ann Guido

When I started my walk, the sun shone brilliantly and skies were blue. My daily trek along the sandy shoreline had become somewhat of a ritual. My doctor had prescribed more exercise and I decided that this fit the bill perfectly. Each day I pushed myself further and further, determined to pass the point of the previous day before turning around. 

Today, I found myself on a section of the beach that few ventured to explore. It was well past the row of million-dollar beach houses that dotted the coastline. In fact, here there were no homes at all. The beach stretched out before me, desolate and pure. I thought I had found paradise.

I shaded my eyes against the brilliant sunshine and gazed out over the ocean. A few dolphins frolicked in the surf while noisy gulls flew overhead. I continued my walk, immersing myself in the smell of salt air dancing on the gentle breeze. A sense of light-hearted freedom filled my heart. I was so caught up in that euphoria I almost did not notice the darkness that rapidly crept across the sky.

It seemed as if someone had put a lid on top of the heavens. In an instant, the bright sky disappeared and was replaced with grey ominous clouds. Smoky tentacles spiraled out swallowing the remaining light, leaving everything, including me, in an eerie darkness. Above the horizon, long fingers of lightning reached down into the ocean followed by rumbling thunder.

I began to count. A flash, then one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, then another flash. The storm was coming in fast. I visually scanned the beach for some kind of shelter. Several hundred yards away, a tiny cottage sat nestled among some dunes. It looked run down with shutters hanging askew around broken windows and paint peeling off the walls. I guessed that no one lived there anymore but if someone did, I hoped they would show kindness to this stranded stranger.

A few drops began to fall, slowly at first, then faster. I ran through the sand toward the cottage and reached the dilapidated front porch just as the heavens spewed a torrential downpour. My clothes were wet, but fortunately not soaked. After waiting a few minutes in hopes that the rain would stop, I gave up. The lightning and thunder came simultaneously, indicating that the storm raged directly above me. Time to seek shelter inside.

I peered through one of the windows but the cracks in the glass prevented me from seeing much. Probably a better idea to just knock on the door. “Hello? Hello? Anybody home?” My inquiry was answered with silence. Apprehension flooded my chest as I tried the door knob. It turned easily and I stepped one foot inside of the threshold. In the gloom, my eyes beheld a puzzling sight. I blinked, then looked again. The room I stood in appeared to be a cavernous foyer complete with a sweeping staircase circling the entire back wall of the entry room. Stairs on either side led up to an ornate balcony which had several doors off of the long hallway.

Thinking that exhaustion and fright of the storm must have stimulated a hallucination of some sort, I stepped back outside. Hoping that I would not be struck by lightning, I stepped off of the porch and back from the house to get another look at its design. A small cottage with peeling paint and broken windows stood before me. I shook my head trying to remove the cobwebs that I was certain had invaded my brain. 

A bolt of lightning struck the water’s edge nearby. Illusion or not, I needed to get out of this violent storm. Summoning up whatever courage I could muster, I inhaled and scooted back inside the house. There it was again, the grand foyer with the sweeping staircase. A loud clap of thunder startled me and I pulled the door shut. For better or for worse, this strange structure now served as my safe haven from the angry tempest outside.

Leaning up against the wall, I deliberately controlled my breaths, inhaling deeply then exhaling. As unbelievable as this house was, I needed to accept what I saw, at least until the high winds, rain and lightning stopped. Slowly, I ventured forward, deciding to do a bit of exploring. My bare feet made slappy sounds on the creaky hardwood floor as I made my way to an alcove under the staircase’s balcony. As I walked, I could see flashes of lightning through floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows on both of the side walls. 

Just as I reached the alcove, a voice called out. “Hello? Who is there?” It was a male voice, deep and resonant, peppered with a slight, very proper British accent. Overcome by an intense feeling of being a home invader, I darted back out to the center of the foyer and looked up at the older man who leaned slightly over the mahogany bannister. I smiled and waved. “Um, hi. I’m so sorry. I thought nobody lived here. I got caught in the storm and needed shelter so I came inside. I’m so embarrassed.” My feet took backward steps as I spoke. “I’ll leave. Again, sorry to intrude.”

He raised his hand indicating for me to stop. “No, no darling. Don’t leave. It is good to have you here.”

“Are you sure? I mean, I just walked into your home and …”

“My dear, you worry too much. Let me make you some tea.”

“Okay.” Agreeing seemed the polite thing to do especially since I had entered his house uninvited, yet for some reason my gut alerted me to an unsettling feeling of apprehension.

He seemed to float down the steps as he descended to the lower floor. I could not take my eyes off of him. An older man, he sported impeccably coiffed snow-white hair. A briar wood pipe protruded from his thin lips and he wore a blue silk smoking jacket that lay just right over a pair of crisp black trousers. He clutched an old looking leather-bound book in his left hand as he slid his right over the elegantly carved bannister. Before I knew it, he stood right in front of me.

“Splendid! Now, two sugars with cream, correct?”

“Huh?”

“Your tea. Two sugars with cream.”

“Uh, yeah.” My eyes shifted sideways to my left. A small round table topped by a tablecloth made of fine lace stood beside me. My host held the handle of a beautiful rose-covered porcelain teapot poised over a matching cup. What was going on? That table was not there before and when did he pick up that steaming teapot?

“Are you having trouble breathing, Lydia?”

He knew my name! How did he know my name? I closed my gaping mouth and decided that treating the situation as normal was probably in my best interests.

“Oh no. Just stifling a yawn. I guess the storm wore me out.” I hoped that my shifting eyes did not betray my lie as he handed me the tea. The delicate fragrance wafted up my nose. Should I take a sip or was that unwise? My eyes closed as I became intoxicated with the aroma. I brought the cup to my lips and sipped. Never had I tasted such a superbly brewed cup of tea.

“How is it?” His smile wreaked of some kind of weird confidence.

My voice dropped to a whisper as I continued to inhale. “Perfect.” I took another sip and swished the sweet liquid around inside my mouth. A feeling of great calm enveloped my body. Suddenly I felt totally relaxed. I looked up from my cup and realized that instead of standing, I sat in a high-backed chair directly across the table from my host who offered me a plate of scones. When did that happen? The scones looked delicious but I declined. “No thank you.”

He puffed on the stem of his pipe as he lit it with a silver lighter then blew a small smoke ring. “The portrait finally arrived. I hung it with the others.”

Portrait? What portrait? What was he talking about?

“See it there on the west wall? It’s right next to Rosalyn’s.”

I looked up from my drink. I no longer sat at the table. Instead, I stood in front of a gallery of paintings, all of beautiful women, all wearing angelic expressions and dressed in elegant attire. He directed me to the middle painting and I gasped. The woman in the painting looked just like me.

“Is that …” My question died mid-sentence as I felt my legs grow weak.

“Silly darling, of course it is! Such beautiful workmanship depicting an absolutely stunning model, don’t you think?” 

“No, no, no! This is impossible! Who the hell are you?” Before he answered, I blacked out. 

When I came to, I found myself in an antique four-poster bed. My clothes had been changed and I wore a long cream-colored gown made from the finest silk. I swung my feet over the side of the bed and made my way to a free-standing full-length mirror to get a better look. The dress was gorgeous and clung to the curves of my body, accentuating my shape. My long hair had been pulled up into soft curls that crowned the top of my head. A tiny bunch of dainty baby’s breath buds had been fastened into my hairdo and cascaded partly down one side of my face. Directly in front of the mirror, a pair of satin-covered heels, the same color as the nightgown, stood at attention waiting for me to strap them on. After fastening the ankle ribbons, I opened the door to my room and discovered it to be one of the doors I had seen from the ground floor when I had first entered the house. 

Music from a waltz played by an unseen orchestra drifted up the steps. I sauntered over to the edge of the bannister and looked down. The foyer had transformed into a sort of ballroom. Dozens of beautiful women stood in small groups chatting with each other while sipping champagne. I squinted in the low light searching for any men in attendance. There were none outside of my host who stood to the side smoking his pipe while talking to a beautiful dark-haired woman wearing a red dress with a tight bodice and voluminous folds. I recognized her as one of the women in the paintings, the woman named Rosalyn. In fact, her dress was the same one she wore for the portrait. I looked down at my gown then glanced over at my portrait hanging on the wall. I too wore the same clothes. Frowning, I focused my eyes on a few of the other women. I recognized them as being models for the paintings and that they too wore identical outfits as those in their portraits. Was this gathering some kind of bizarre reunion?

Yet, the scene seemed so beautiful and dreamlike. All of the vibrant colored gowns swishing as the women moved, the lovely strains of a haunting waltz, and the tinkling sound of crystal glasses being clinked together in numerous toasts beckoned me to join them. I wanted to, in fact I had to tell myself over and over that this whole situation had to be some sort of weird mirage or hallucination. Perhaps my tea had been drugged or, more likely, perhaps I suffered exhaustion during the storm and this was all a dream. But somehow, I knew that it was not a dream or a hallucination or mirage. As impossible as it seemed, this was real and I trembled with fright.

My heart pounded against my chest in warning. I did not know what I had stumbled into during the storm but I did know that I needed to get out of there. I did not want to spend another minute inside of that creepy surreal house, storm or no storm. I waited until my host took Rosalyn by the arm and led her out to the dance floor, then made my move. Lifting my skirt, I skipped down the stairs and bolted toward the door.

When I got to the front of the room where I thought I had entered, there was no door. In a panic, I frantically banged on the wall trying to find a way out. I found nothing. I decided that I had to break a window to escape. Yet after I turned in that direction, I saw that the windows were gone. The room was totally surrounded by solid wood-paneled walls with no doors or windows of any kind.

“Going somewhere, Lydia?”

I spun around on my heel. My host stood in front of me smiling an eerie smile. Terrified, I flattened myself against the wall. “I want to leave.”

“Why? This celebration is for you.”

“I’m not in a celebrating mood. What the hell is this place, anyway? Things change constantly. I can’t keep up.”

“You really don’t know?”

“No. Please, tell me what is going on?”

“Darling, you are my guest, my permanent guest.” His face began to morph, twisting and darkening. His eyes burned red, two horns emerged from the top of his head, and his wicked smile seared into the depths of my soul. Recoiling, I screamed.

~~~~~

The two detectives trudged through the thick sand. In the darkness, their flashlights searched every nook and cranny of the beach. They had been trying to find Lydia for hours. A passerby had heard a blood curdling female scream while gathering seashells that had washed up onto the shore after the big storm. After checking the area and finding no sign of a woman, the Good Samaritan had called the police, who had already received a call from Lydia’s distraught husband saying that she had never returned from her daily walk. Putting two and two together, they theorized that the screaming female was Lydia.

“Over here!”

The detectives raced toward the voice where an officer indicated an abandoned cottage. “What do you have?”

“Take a look, sir. It’s not pretty.”

The detectives stepped inside. On the floor, right inside the doorway, they found the body of a woman. One of them knelt down and pulled back the jacket that had been hastily thrown over her lifeless form. Her clothes were scorched and burned. Her once beautiful face had melted like wax making her almost unrecognizable. Her eyes bulged, frozen in a terrified death stare. The detective picked up her charred left hand. The third finger still wore the heart shaped diamond wedding ring her husband had described.

“Yeah, it’s her. Damned shame. Such a beautiful woman.”

The patrol officer scratched his head. “What do you think happened to her?”

“Probably got struck by lightning during the storm.”

“Well how did she get in here then?”

The detective dropped the jacket back over Lydia’s face. “Beats me.” He eyeballed the small room. “What a dump. I don’t know why they never tore this place down after old man Hill got the needle. At the very least, it should be condemned.”

His partner made the sign of the cross over Lydia’s body. “Ain’t he the one who killed all them pretty women and buried them around the house in the sand?”

“Yup.” His last words on the table were, ‘we’ll all burn in hell,’ whatever that meant. The detective shrugged his shoulders then shook his head. “Looks like he just added to his collection.”

{{~..~}}

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Lynn Miclea: Unearthly Threat

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Unearthly Threat

Lynn Miclea

Kyle shrieked and scooted back in his chair. Goosebumps covered his arms. “I found it.”

Richard glanced up from his computer. “You found what?”

“The alien spaceship.” Kyle scooted forward again and leaned in, looking intently at the monitor. “I knew it was there. I finally found it. It is hovering at a height of roughly 20,000 feet, hidden within a gray cloud that never dissipates, and it is over the lake.”

Richard got up and went to Kyle’s computer. “Show me.”

“Here.” Kyle pointed at a hazy gray blob within a dark gray cloud. “It’s hard to see, but the way light is reflected off it shows the shape.” He leaned forward, squinting at the screen. “That’s it. I knew it was there.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive.”

“And the lightning?”

Kyle leaned back in his chair. “I believe the lightning is being generated by the spaceship within the cloud. It is intentional and it is directly hitting that floating barge in the lake.”

Richard stared at the screen and then looked at Kyle. “I’ve been investigating and tracking that barge, but it still doesn’t make sense. We can’t get inside the barge or even close enough to figure out what it is. And what does the lightning have to do with it?”

“Hear me out.” Kyle let out a slow breath as he organized his thoughts. “The floating barge we discovered is an alien energy power grid, hidden in plain sight, where people would ignore it. From what you have determined with your analysis, it is virtually indestructible, and yet it contains immense power that the alien ship can utilize and focus for their needs.”

“Well, part of that is true. We have not been able to get close enough to investigate it properly. It seems to be deliberately trying to stay unobtrusive and be inaccessible. So far, it seems to be impenetrable and indestructible. We can’t even tell what it is constructed from.” Richard shook his head. “And we certainly don’t know what it’s used for. That’s all conjecture and fantasy on your part.”

Kyle tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. “Hasn’t the lightning seemed strange to you?”

“In what way?”

Kyle thought for a moment before responding. “The lightning seems to be only over the lake in the vicinity of that barge. And it strikes every three days at roughly 1:00 in the afternoon. No storm would be that regular. It never moves inland the way a storm would. There’s no rain or wind with it. And it seems to always hit the barge.” He gestured toward the screen. “It is actually aimed at the barge. It is targeting that monstrosity. And when it hits the barge, you tell me what happens.”

Richard thought back over what he had recently investigated and evaluated, and when he spoke, his voice was animated. “Something inside the barge lights up. Something gets activated in there, and there is an increase in temperature. But so far, there’s nothing we can understand or figure out.”

“Exactly.” Kyle leaned forward and his gaze was intense. “I think the lightning is generated by the spaceship that is hovering above it, hidden in that one cloud that never moves.”

Richard was silent for a few minutes and then stared at Kyle. “And for what purpose?”

Kyle pursed his lips before answering. “I believe they are using that barge as an alien energy grid. The lightning activates something that generates energy for them to use.”

Richard stared at him. “But this is all conjecture. And for them to use for what?”

Kyle’s voice dropped. “My guess is to either attack us, take over, or annihilate us.” He looked at Richard. “Whatever it is, it’s not good, and they must be stopped. Or do you have another theory of what they are doing?”

Richard stared at the monitor. “It’s been so strange to see that lightning just in that one spot, hitting the barge every time. And then the barge lights up from inside in such an eerie way. And nothing we do lets us access it.” He shook his head. “But now that you discovered a spaceship above it … well … that changes everything.”

“Yes, it sure does.”

“And what you say makes sense. It feels ominous. And the lightning strikes have been getting closer together. Remember when they were a week apart? Then five days apart? And now three days. And now that we know there is intelligence behind it, well, that’s a whole new ballgame. We need to tell our supervisor. We need to tell —”

“No. We can’t tell anyone. If they say no, then our hands are tied. We have to take care of this ourselves.”

Richard spoke softly. “But how?”

“I’m not sure yet. But we need to somehow stop them.”

Richard looked around the cramped basement filled with computers and equipment. Finally, he nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. Okay, I’m on board. So how can we stop them? What can we do?”

A small grin lit up Kyle’s face. “We can set up a device that will do two things. One, when lightning hits it, it will reflect and transmit an energy pulse back to the source — the ship — which will destroy their electronics, computers, and devices. It will basically destroy their ship.” His voice grew more intense. “And two, the lightning strike will also set off an explosion on the barge itself and blow up the barge including their energy grid.”

Richard shook his head. “I’m not sure about this. I know we can set up an electromagnetic pulse singularity that can do that. But what if the explosion of their energy grid triggers something huge that we can’t control? Something worse?”

“Hey, if we do nothing, we’re all dead anyway. We’ll either be victims to those alien creatures, or they’ll kill us. I’d rather deal with a possible energy shock wave than be taken over or killed by an alien species. So for me, there’s no question. It needs to be destroyed, right?” Richard nodded, and Kyle continued. “So we really have no choice. We gotta do this.”

Richard nodded again. “Okay, I agree. So setting up an electromagnetic pulse transmitter is no problem.” He thought for a moment and then continued. “And I can get that set up on the barge. I can have it triggered by the lightning strike to send a pulse back up to the source — to that ship.” His face got more animated as he continued. “And I can set a slight delay and then an explosion that should take out the barge. Give me a few days to get this all ready.”

Kyle smiled. “You got it. And we have to time it right to get it set up between lightning strikes so that we know when it’s safe to set up, and when it will be triggered.”

***

Three days later, Richard leaned over Kyle’s desk. “It’s ready.”

Kyle looked up into Richard’s excited face. “The electromagnetic pulse device? It’s ready?”

Richard nodded. “Yes, the EMP device is all set to go. When was the last lightning strike?”

Kyle glanced at his computer and clicked a few keys. “Yesterday. You have two days to get it in place and programmed, and then there will be another lightning strike on Thursday.”

“Good. This will be ready tomorrow. I’ll get it all set up.”

***

Dark clouds filled the air on Thursday morning. Kyle turned to Richard. “Will bad weather mess up the EMP device? It is dreary and overcast today. It might even rain.”

Richard shook his head. “No, it should be good. As long as our weather itself doesn’t create a lightning strike that would set it off, rather than from the spaceship. We don’t want to send a pulse just to a rain cloud, and we certainly don’t want to alert them and have to do this again. I’m not sure they would let us have another chance. We don’t want to let them know we’ve detected them. We may only get one shot at this.”

Kyle checked the computer for the weather. “It says cloudy all day, chance of light rain, but no thunderstorms in the forecast. That’s good.”

Richard paced back and forth in the cramped basement. “This had better work.”

“It will. You do good work. Relax.”

Richard shook his head. “So much can go wrong. And this is too important to get messed up.” He continued pacing. “I have gone over every setting multiple times. I’m sure it’s right. I’m just … I don’t know … I want this over.”

“Hey, sit down. Do something else for a while. It’s only 11:00 — we have about two hours before the show begins.”

“This had better work.”

“Relax. It will. I know you. I know the work you do.” Kyle scanned the basement. “Hey, are we safe here if there is a shock wave from the barge explosion?”

Richard nodded. “Yes, we should be good. We’re underground, and there’s a protective layer built into the ceiling above us that should protect us against heat, radiation, electromagnetic pulses … we should be good.”

“How much delay will there be from the pulse going back up to the spaceship before the barge explosion?”

“Twenty seconds. I hope that will give us enough time to see the results from each event separately and be able to track everything and record data without giving them time to do anything in case they are still able to.”

Kyle nodded. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Hey, did you check the spaceship? Is it still there?”

Kyle glanced at the screen. “Yes, they are there. They are still hiding inside that cloud, but I can detect them.”

“Good.” Richard sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “I hate waiting.”

“Hey, let’s have an early lunch. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself nuts.”

“I know. I’ve double-checked all the figures. I just … You’re right. Let’s have an early lunch.”

After finishing his sandwich thirty minutes later, Kyle stood up and stretched, then went to his computer and clicked a few keys. “So far, so good,” he called back to Richard who was cleaning up the table where they had eaten. “No lightning strike yet, and that spaceship is still in the cloud.”

“Good,” Richard answered as he went to his computer.

Kyle checked his watch. “We have maybe one hour left before —”

A loud sizzling sound came from his monitor, interrupting him. Kyle frantically clicked on a few more keys. “Hey, there was a lightning strike. It came early today. I think —”

A bright light flashed on his screen, and the two men watched the cloud light up where the spaceship had been hidden.

“Wait,” Richard said, pointing to the screen. “Was the spaceship hit by the pulse? Why wasn’t there a bigger explosion? Something’s wrong. That ship should have exploded.”

“I know. Something’s not right.” Kyle clicked on the keys.

A rumble came from the speakers, and the ground shook. Kyle looked up. “That might be the explosion on the barge.” The structure of the house above them creaked. “And that could be the shock wave, but it doesn’t sound as powerful as it should be.”

Richard nodded. “Is the barge destroyed? I have a very uneasy feeling about this. Nothing is going the way we expected.”

Kyle zoomed in on the image. “Something’s wrong. It seems damaged, but not destroyed. It has set off some type of energy surge, but … wait …”

“What is it?”

Kyle gasped. “NOOOO!”

Richard rushed over. “What? What? Talk to me!”

Sweat beaded up on Kyle’s scalp and ran down his neck. “The spaceship that was in the cloud … it was … it was a decoy. It wasn’t real. It was a shadow meant to draw our attention and distract us.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It was a trick — it wasn’t a real spaceship. There’s another spaceship. A real one … and it has now been alerted.”

Richard stared at him. “What do you mean?”

“Look,” Kyle answered, pointing at the screen. “They fooled us. See the shadow here? What I thought was a spaceship?” He saw Richard nod, and he continued. “It’s a hologram.”

“What? So our EMP didn’t reach the spaceship?”

“No, not the real one. There’s another one behind that one. I couldn’t see it, and I thought we had the real one.”

“So the real spaceship is unharmed?” His eyes widened. “And now they know …”

“Yes. And another lightning strike from the real one will have dire consequences. Especially now that they know we found them. This will propel them to act to protect themselves. And it will most likely accelerate their agenda for whatever they want to do on our world.” His eyes grew large and he swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. “This could mean the end of the world as we know it.”

“You can’t mean …”

CRACK!

A flash of lightning lit up the screen. The lightning directly hit the barge, and a blinding light blazed on the monitor.

Kyle and Richard raised their arms to protect their eyes against the brightness as a powerful wave of energy raced toward them a fraction of a second later, obliterating everything in its path.

Kyle barely had time to gasp in shock as his throat burned and closed, cutting off his air supply. His arms flailed and his hair sizzled, as he collapsed on the floor next to Richard’s bloated body.

The wave of energy continued to rush onward.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2021 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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