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Michele Sayre: A Thousand Words (give or take) – Writing From Different Places

A Thousand Words (give or take) – Writing From Different Places

By Michele Sayre

First, I’ve retitled my blog yet again because the title I had before was a bit limiting. But it wasn’t just the title I was having trouble with.

For the last three and a half years I’ve been wanting to write book-length non-fiction and also shorter non-fiction pieces like blog entries and essays. Yet I couldn’t stay with that type of writing and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I knew I was coming to non-fiction from a very personal and emotional perspective but I wasn’t quite aware that I write from a completely difference place inside of me unlike how I write fiction and poetry.

Here’s how I figured out I write from two different places inside me.

With fiction, I write from a place of excitement born from my imagination and inspiration. When I get an idea for a fiction story, I get really excited. My heart pounds and my nerves hum and all I want to do is write the story. I don’t plan our plot out my stories and yes, I get bogged down and even driven nuts by that. But it’s still a place of excitement even when the story is emotionally gut-wrenching.

With non-fiction, I don’t feel that excitement at all. I don’t feel my heart pounding and my nerves humming in anticipation. I write non-fiction sometimes starting out with a weigh on my chest that almost makes it hard for me to breathe. I write it sometimes on the edge of bawling my eyes out. I write it thinking so hard my brain almost hurts and my eyes cross and burn.

With fiction I feel great joy in telling a story. Sometimes I feel like a kid sitting down to hear a story read to me, or opening a book for the very first time, or sitting in a darkened movie theater. It’s a need and an intense desire to be a part of that rich storytelling tradition.

With non-fiction, it’s about getting my emotional baggage out of my head and a ton of difficult thoughts in order. It’s a need to share, but not from a place of joy like fiction. And this has been a hard realization for me, but a much-needed and very welcome one for me, too. This realization has lifted a big weight off my shoulders I’ve been trying to lift for a long time. Knowing I write non-fiction from a different place inside me and that it’s not a joyful one helps me understand it’s okay to feel like I do about it. It also tells me I’m okay in not working on the non-fiction all the time because if I did I’d probably go clear around the bend to crazy-town. I thought it was because they were big projects with a lot of moving parts but it’s what I have to think and feel in order to write them.

Writing is like falling down a rabbit-hole into Wonderland sometimes with all its’ assorted pitfalls and weird shit to deal with. For me, understanding why I write what I want to has been a big part of my life over the four years. I say I have a complicated relationship with writing and not just because I’ve been doing it for so long, and not just because of how I started, but because of what it’s led me to.

I’ve written a lot of stuff over the last four years that’s been very intense and emotional as hell for me. I’ve shared some of it but most of it has been trashed as I’ve deemed it too raw and unfocused. I see it was now just me venting off excess thoughts and emotions because I know as a writer I can’t just rant-and-rave on the page and edit the crap out of it to get something meaningful. For me, there has to be focus in what I put out there. I’m very good with fiction now in terms of staying on track so now I’ve just got to figure out how to do that with my non-fiction work.

And another thing that’s interesting is how I write poetry. That’s a bit of mix between that humming energy of fiction with the weight of non-fiction. My poetry comes out pretty fast and then I edit it down from there. It flows pretty quickly out of me but it’s almost like I’m desperate to get it out of me.

I think a lot of writers would refer to my difficulties in writing as ‘writer’s block’, and I think that’s a valid term here. I’ve never dismissed the term ‘writer’s block’ as I know that there are times when a writer can’t write and they have to figure out why. Stepping away from the keyboard and going inside your head, especially into the storage unit as I call it, isn’t easy. But like I’ve said before, it’s more than worth it.

I feel better now having written this out. I feel a weight coming off me and a clarity that is sharper than before. I’ve had a lot of these moments of clarity as I call them over the last four years or so and though this one doesn’t have me jumping for joy, I’m grateful for it.

About Michele Sayre:

Writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Native Texan, Uber-driver, taco lover, mom to chonky cat and diva dog.

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Please visit Michele’s blog for more amazing insights into the writer and the writing process: https://michelesayre.wordpress.com/

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Chiman Salih: Paris

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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Paris 

By Chiman Salih

One month into my admission into the university, the college administration held a special reception full of fun for the newcomers in one of the pavilions. A game of luck try was happening. I got in, removed a folded paper and opened it to reveal two sentences sounding as if they were a part of great literature. They caught my imagination and mind and touched my heart.

Take a scarf to be a Parisian. Go on the Nile to be Nefertiti.

I felt astonished by how those words related to me.

I was on my first trip to Paris. The scarf mattered.

Finally, the airplane started to go down through clouds and land in the city of light. I arrived in the city through Charles de Gaulle airport, to reach the heart of the beautiful, breathtaking city. Petrichor emanated from the wet ground and maple trees. After taking some rest, I surveyed the luxurious shops beside me and spotted beautifully colored scarves in one of them. I entered the shop and purchased several varicolored scarves. I folded the purple one around my forehead to embark on the dream tour in the dream city.

I sensed Baudelaire walking right beside me. He had described me as aflâneuse in Paris. He recounted how he had materialized the beauty and modernity and fashion in an outstanding masterpiece and authored flâneur. 

I sensed the raindrops hitting my cheeks. At the corner, a lanky young boy gave me an umbrella with a transparent canopy.

After walking for a while and viewing amazing sceneries on both sides of the way, the rain grew heavier. I had to enter a café shop to escape the torrential rain and rest. I ate a brunch meal of a tasty pancake with Nutella chocolate as the weather brightened, then I prepared for the next part of my sweet journey.

I passed amazing architectures, happy lovers, tourists from around the world conveying different visages, fallen leaves, musicians, painters, vendors, and views from the Seine River and Eiffel Tower. I reached the historical site of the Cathedral Notre Dame. I knew the crowd, chatting and laughing, were queues waiting their turn to enter the cathedral.

Everybody in the crowd stood under umbrellas just like mine, and the vendors sold different colored berets. Every woman donned a beret or was purchasing one. Most of them selected berets matching their own scarf colors. Men focused more on holding the umbrellas and using their cameras.

I took a purple beret too.

I beheld the crowd’s beauty, resembling a garden of colorful tulips—a row of different beret colors on the head and bright scarves around the neck or folded to handbags, transparent umbrellas protecting against the rain but the raindrops still viewed when they bounced from the top. The most magical part was the blue sky, making the upper ground of the live encaustic and integrated the beauty of the set. The cathedral also towered over the colorful, happy mob.

I fell into meditation, imagining the stunning spectacle around me.

I wondered about weather—if nature lent its beauty to human beings in this place or vice versa?

I indulged in a secret heart-to-heart interview with Victor Hugo.

“Salute, Mr. Hugo.”

“Bienvenue, a Paris madame,” he answered in a soft voice and Parisian classy style.

“If you came back to life, would you write The Hunchback of Notre Dame again?”

“Oui, bien sûr. But this time, I will give a different role to Quasimodo. It’s the role of the scarf and beret vendor in front of the cathedral.” It sounded like he had marveled at the scene too.

“Might that soften La Esmerelda’s heart too?”

“Undoubtedly,” he answered.

“Merci beaucoup, M. Hugo.”

“Come back again, madame.”

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https://m.facebook.com/ChimanNSalih/

Alfred Warren Smith: THE DAY I WAS HANDY

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 Day I Was Handy

By Alfred Warren Smith

My relationship with tools can best be described as ambivalent.

I wasn’t afraid of them, but whenever they had to be used, they produced in me a sense of dread because it meant that something had to be repaired or assembled, and there was always the lingering question: Will I have parts left over when I’m done? Because that meant an improper assembly or repair, and I’d have to do it all over again.

My father was handy, and could pretty much fix anything; he handled tools with a craftsman’s concentration and confidence. He didn’t live with us, but when my mother wanted something done to our apartment and he could do it, he would.

I watched him painstakingly match wallpaper and tile so the patterns weren’t broken.

I watched him glue, wire, carve wood, spackle, grout, paint, and garden (at his place) with alacrity. I had no such confidence in my own skills to even remotely approach the quality of his work.

And then I became a Dad, and then we rented a house with a sizable yard that I was now responsible for as a man whose idea of nature was visiting Central Park and the Bronx Zoo.

Cribs, bikes, dollhouses, power outages, plumbing and car problems when there was no money to pay the tradesmen took care of those things all combined to come at me in a variety of configurations.

And so began the accumulation of hardware, of knowledge that demanded dexterity (if not speed), caution, and in time, more confidence than not. (No pieces left over! Yes!)

Those days are past me now, and the presence of my father is no longer on the earth, but the dust, dirt, and rust on my own toolbox has been hard won.

My ambivalence remains because, as I said before, it means something has gone wrong (Aw man, a problem…) and needs immediate attention, but I think of what my father would do, and how his legacy of excellence guides my hands. (Problem solved!)

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 Please visit Alfred on his website: https://mywritemind.press/

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields: FIXING A WHOLE

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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Authors Note: Twenty-three years ago, I fought the final round with Annie—Annie Wrecks Ya. At present, I’m working on a novel based on my experience. Thus far the working title is Last Dance with Annie, but I’m not married to it. 

FIXING A WHOLE

By Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The flashbacks started somewhere in my late thirties, upending my memories of a happy childhood. How could I have blocked out such things? Nothing made sense. I loathed the body that had betrayed me. My life spun out of control. 

It’s all about control, you know. 

Annie gave me control. No one, not my husband or even my doctor, could tell me what I could or couldn’t put in my mouth. I controlled my eating—until I didn’t. Annie did. 

Annie controlled my daily frenetic exercise. At the same time, I fantasized about onion rings and fried chicken. Of course, Annie would never allow me to eat them. She constantly reminded me numbers mattered. One hundred calories per meal. Twenty pink pills to purge it. The scale hovered between eighty-five and eighty-four. 

“You like my new jeans?” I asked my friend and coworker Linda. “I can’t believe they fit.” 

“What size?” Her ice-blue gaze met mine. 

“Zero.”

“You’ll look nice in your child-size coffin.” 

Her comment almost became prophecy when my “dieting” caught up to me. After collapsing in a store, I was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital with an eating-disorder unit. 

After two months of treatment and medical leave, I returned to work.

My size-zero jeans no longer zipped and they’d become tight around the hips and thighs. In fact, I’d outgrown my size two’s as well. 

“You look so much better,” said Linda. “There’s color in them thar cheeks.” 

That’s a good thing, right?

Recovery was more difficult than I’d expected. Although Annie’s grip loosened, she continued to haunt me. When someone complimented me on my weight gain, Annie translated it to, “My you’re getting fat.”  

“Body image takes time to change,” my dietitian assured me during my weekly visits. “All I can do is provide the tools. It’s up to you to use them.” 

Tools? What tools?

One of those so-called tools offered by Dr. Wilson, my psychiatrist, was Risperdal, a drug prescribed to treat such conditions as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental health experts hoped the antipsychotic might calm the obsessive thoughts of anorexics and bulimics. 

I detested the way it made me feel. Strange. Out of touch with the rest of the world. Afraid of what I didn’t know. 

Dr. Wilson decided Risperdal alone wasn’t doing what it should. Diagnosing me as “mildly bipolar” and being “slightly” ADD, she added Lithium to my daily pill-age. 

My appetite dwindled and my anxiety level skyrocketed. I began to lose weight again but took little pleasure in it. I barely functioned at work. How I stayed on the payroll is beyond me. 

“I’ve never seen such a severe reaction,” said Dr. Wilson. “Clearly you’re allergic.”

My nightmare was far from over. The drugs’ half-lives of a week or two stretched into over a month. The debilitating side effects continued to take their toll, not only on me but on my frazzled husband as well. 

One night it all came to a head. 

“I don’t know what to do for you anymore,” he fumed when I broke down. “Crying won’t help.” 

I sniffed and choked back sobs. “Stop trying to fix me!”

With a sigh, he sank into his recliner and gathered me onto his lap. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Maybe you need to go back into the hospital.” 

I snuggled against him. His admission of helplessness comforted me. My true recovery began that very night when, together, we learned crying is sometimes the best of all tools.

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Please visit Rochelle on her website: https://rochellewisoff.com/

Marian Wood: A Screwdriver, a Flat Pack and Heartbreak

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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A Screwdriver, a Flat Pack and Heartbreak

By Marian Wood

The screwdriver

Knocking her to the floor, he now grabbed the first thing that he saw — the screwdriver with its red handle urging him to do something he was going to regret. In the moment, his rage flowed through him, like a waterfall cascading down rocks. This was it, the bitch was not going to hurt him anymore.

***

The attack

Detective Jim Monroe now surveyed the scene of the evident vicious attack with the screwdriver pointing towards the sky, the Ikea ‘Billy bookcase’ unfinished next to her. He had built many flat packs but what had made this person so angry? He was certain that it wasn’t Ikea. Observing those around him, he watched Inspector Tessa Miller talking to the dead woman’s husband, Phil Jakes. Mr. Jakes appeared upset, but was he really? In so many cases it was the person closest to them that was driven to murder. This looked brutal. There must have been a good reason, but what was it?

Writing in his small notebook, he now watched the dead woman’s mother trying to play with the children. It was Christmas time. Not the best time, if there was a best time, to lose a parent or a child. He could see that she was being strong, holding back tears that would keep flowing once she started.

Her father sat staring at his newspaper in silence. Detective Monroe was not sure what to make of the scene, no one was giving anything away. The family was showing life as usual, as if Julie had not just been carried away in a body bag. What had he missed?

The Christmas tree was surrounded by presents. The only person visibly affected was Mr. Jakes, and he was their main suspect. Scratching his head, he now walked out to his patrol car to make some phone calls. There was something really wrong here.

***

On top of the cliffs

Sitting on a bench on the top of a cliff, he stared into the far distance. His eyes were wet with tears. He knew that his life was over. Knowing that he shouldn’t have let his anger control him, he put his head in his hands. He knew that the pain he now felt was nothing compared to little Rosemary and Jack, they had lost their mummy and they would never see her again.

Not knowing what to do now, he wanted to run with the guilt consuming him. It had gone too far, and he couldn’t turn the clock back. Thinking of the children, he could feel his head was pounding. He told himself that he needed to hand himself in, but he was scared. Life in prison would give him shelter and food, but he didn’t want to go. Picturing the red screwdriver, he felt pain in his stomach. Feeling the pressure in his head growing, he knew what was about to happen before he started vomiting. Maybe he should have just concentrated on building the ‘Billy Bookcase.’ He wouldn’t be in this terrible situation now.

***

Phil Jakes

The house was silent as Phil Jakes sat alone at the kitchen table. Working through the beer in the fridge, he couldn’t imagine life without Julie. Losing his wife, he was devastated. Looking at their wedding photograph hanging on the wall, he remembered how happy they both were on that day. Her beautiful smile — they were meant for each other.

They had recently been having some problems which they were working through, and with all the stress of Christmas, he hadn’t paid her as much attention as he normally would have done. The extra hours he had worked to ensure that the children could have nice presents. Jack and Rosemary had both wanted new bicycles. A few nights ago, he had finally purchased them and brought them home. They now sat in the garage waiting for Christmas day. Julie had been overjoyed to see them and had given him a hug for working the extra hours.

Julie would never know about the bracelet he had bought her. The extra hours worked and haggling on the bikes and cashback had contributed to it. He had been looking forward to the 25th, now just two days away, and it was ruined.

He had let his in-laws put Jack and Rosemary to bed. At five and seven, they were too young to understand, they just kept asking where mummy was. They had been incredible but he was sure that his mother-in-law, Deborah Miller, was going to crack soon and once she did then his father-in-law, Brian, would as well.

***

The lover

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why else?” Detective Monroe thought. “There always has to be heartache involved.”

“Okay, so who is he?”

“Sir, his name is Mark Wells. He is an engineer at the local power plant. Julie was one of the secretaries.”

“Always the office party, too much Prosecco and fun. A spurned lover had seemed too obvious.”

“Okay, you and Inspector Jeffries please go and bring him in. We will question him at the station.”

Walking to the hot chocolate machine, Detective Jim Monroe was now thinking again about the ‘Billy Bookcase.’ Was it significant to the case? Or was it just coincidence that it was nearly half done? Death by screwdriver was really not the way to go.

Striding back to his office whilst enjoying his warm comforting chocolate, he wondered again about husband Phil.

Pulling out his chair, he now sank himself into it and placed his cardboard cup on his desk. Why was the bookcase bothering him?

The bookcase

It was now 9:00 am, not too early for a phone call. Dialing Mr. Jakes’ number, he willed him to answer.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Mr. Jakes, it’s Detective Monroe.”

“Oh hi, any news?”

“Just wondering, errr, who was building the bookcase?”

Embarrassed, Phil said, “I started it, but gave up. There seemed to be parts missing.”

“Hmm, sounds about right for a flat pack. So, was someone else building it?”

“Julie had decided to do it herself, but I would have been surprised if she had completed it. She has never built a flat pack.”

“So, any ideas whose DNA we might find on the screwdriver?”

Phil thought. “Well I know she has been friendly with one of the engineers at work, someone called Mark. Don’t know why he would kill her though. The bookcase might drive someone insane but not to murder.”

“We will keep you informed, Mr. Jakes.”

“Okay.”

Hanging up the phone, Jim Monroe played through the events in his head. They must have been having quite a conversation for Mark Wells to stab her with the screwdriver. His phone rang, making him jump.

Mark Wells

“Hello, Monroe.”

“Sir, it’s Tessa. Err, Wells, he’s missing and no one has seen him since yesterday.”

“Right, I’m going to phone the lab, check what has been found on the screwdriver.”

“We’ll keep looking, sir.”

“Yes, can you alert the local services and the coast guard, we need to find him.”

“I will do that now.”

“Let me know if you have any news.”

Dragging his hands through his hair, he picked up the phone again.

“Hello, labs.”

“Hi, it’s Monroe. Do you have the results?”

“Yes sir, fingerprints on it match with a Mr. Mark Wells.”

“Thank you very much.”

He put the phone down. So that’s confirmed. Death by screwdriver from a man who was used for a little bit of fun. Senseless entertainment that had led to an incomplete bookcase and a blood-covered screwdriver.

***

So, what has happened to Mark Wells?

Sitting on the cliffs in despair, Mark did not know what else to do. He had nothing to live for. He had murdered the lady he had really cared for. Standing up, he walked to the cliff edge. He took a last look around before closing his eyes and hurling himself off the cliff. Hitting the water with a force that hurt, he let the icy waters take over.

Julie had died at his hands, and now he let the water’s cold embrace take over. Death was better than prison.

***

A day later, his body washed up on the beach, and a couple walking their dog found him. Detective Monroe was not surprised when he was informed. He looked at the screwdriver sitting in his desk drawer. He would never see a flat pack in the same way again or a small screwdriver. A sad story that had ended in the death of two people and a family heartbroken.

Time to speak to Julie’s family again. It was now Boxing Day but felt like any other day. Jim Monroe picked up the phone again. All in a day’s work and all because of a screwdriver in the wrong place.

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Please visit Marian’s blog: https://justmuddlingthroughlife.co.uk/

Stephen Wylder: THE CHEST OF HOPE AND DREAD

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

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

THE CHEST OF HOPE AND DREAD

By Stephen Wylder

Monday, May 11, 1970

Parklawn Married Student Apartments, Iowa City

“Thomas, stay in bed with me. I know you have had one of your dreams.”

“Helena,” I lied, “it wasn’t a dream. I have an eight-thirty class.”

“There will be no need to go to class,” she said. “President Boyd said you may simply take the grade you had before the troubles. Do not go to Chicago.”

She was right about the class. When riots had virtually shut down the university after four students were shot to death at Kent State University in Ohio, there had been a boycott of classes. University president Willard Boyd had officially refused to close the university, but he had allowed students several options if they did not wish to stay for finals. The protests had begun nationwide when President Richard Nixon had announced an invasion of neutral Cambodia. But when the Ohio National Guard had fired live ammunition into a crowd, killing four students, the Iowa campus erupted in violence. For all intents and purposes, the campus was shut down.

And, she was right about the dream. She and I were both apprentices in the Metaphysicians’ Guild, an organization that goes back to the time when philosophers and sorcerers were one and the same. I’m what the Guild calls a receiver—someone who can receive messages through the spirit world, but can’t “do” magic, as Helena can. This message had been from Gregory Alverdy, an instructor at Northeastern Illinois State College in Chicago, but also a master metaphysician. I must have said something in my sleep about going to Chicago. I hoped I hadn’t said that I had to go alone.

I had met Helena MacKechnie nearly two years before when I was a youth reporter for the Indianapolis Post, and she was running from a former lover. And while her father was a Scottish-American diplomat with no magical abilities to my knowledge, her mother had been a Zoroastrian from Lahore, British India, and a descendant of Persian Magi. We fell in love amid the chaos of the Yippies’ “Festival of Life” during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Gregory had been best man at our wedding, and his wife, Linnea Thorvaldsen, was matron of honor. Linnea, who was also a master in the Metaphysicians’ Guild, was usually the one to send me dreams. Why had this dream come from Gregory? And was it really from him? There were masters who could fool even other masters with their disguises.

I sat up on the edge of the bed. “Thomas,” she said, “please stay with me. There is evil abroad.“

She hadn’t acted this way since I first met her when there was evil abroad. I turned, looking into her mahogany-brown eyes, when a loud bang in the hallway startled us both. It sounded like someone had dropped something right outside our door. I put on a robe and walked to the metal door, keeping the chain bolt on until I could see what if anything was outside. It was an old-fashioned wooden chest, though it didn’t appear to be old. It was unpainted and looked to be of pine.

Helena, who had put a robe over her black nightgown, stood behind me and gasped. “It is the Chest of Hope and Dread,” she said.

I looked at her, dumbfounded.

“What is inside will offer something we dearly hope for, but it will require great personal cost to achieve. And it could be a false promise, even when one has made the sacrifice. The chest itself is not evil. You may bring it inside.”

After I determined that I could lift the chest, I carried it into the living room and set it in front of the sofa. After a brief pause, I unlatched the hasp and opened it. I was looking at a photocopy of a Des Moines Register article by Clark Mollenhoff. The headline was a shock: “VANCE, LE DUC THO SIGN PEACE PACT.” The subhead read “Coalition Government to rule until September Elections.”

But there was another shock in the first paragraph: “PARIS, France—Special Envoy Cyrus Vance announced today that South Vietnamese envoy Tran Van Lam, North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho and Viet Cong representative Nguyen Chi Thanh had reached an agreement to form a coalition government until a general election, supervised by the United Nations, in September. President Hubert H. Humphrey declared it “a great achievement for world peace.” It was dated April 10, 1968.

“It is another stream of history, Thomas,” she said, “or a clever forgery. In that stream, if it is true, Humphrey has become president and has put an end to this terrible war. But there will be a dilemma.”

Underneath the first photocopy was another, with the headline, “JOHNSON DEAD IN FREAK ACCIDENT. HUMPHREY SWORN IN.” It was datelined ELKHART, Ind., Apr. 14 AP—President Lyndon B. Johnson, while surveying the damage to this northern Indiana city from Sunday’s deadly tornadoes, died when he fell while walking over a pile of debris. The president was attempting to reach an American flag hanging from a propped-up pole in the ruins of a house, when he slipped and fell, his chest hitting the corner of a concrete block. Johnson, who has had heart problems since 1955, suffered a massive heart attack as a result of the impact…”

“Johnson came to Elkhart after the Palm Sunday Tornadoes in 1965,” I said, “but of course he didn’t die.”

“If peace negotiations ended the war, in April 1968,” she said, “there would have been no Festival of Life in Chicago. You would never have met me.”

I saw a tear fall down her cheek.

“Sometimes,” she said, “we must sacrifice true love for a greater good. Even though this involves the premature death of President Johnson, such a peace would save thousands of American and Vietnamese lives. Unless we can prove this is a forgery, you must take the train to Chicago and see Gregory.

“Did you see President Johnson when he visited Elkhart?”

“Yes,” I said. “I skipped school and rode my bike down to Dunlap—that’s the name of the area the tornado hit—so I could see the president.”

“So, Gregory would send your soul back there to meld with your younger soul. And then with some kind of enhancement, you would relive the event and somehow change what happened. That seems very unlikely, Thomas. If this is the true Chest, every change from today’s reality will be explained. We shall have to do some research today. But first, let us have breakfast and bless each other.”

After our breakfast of tea and English muffins, we returned to the bedroom and made love, perhaps for the last time. And then we dressed and set off in her white Volkswagen Beetle to the university library, where we parked not far from the burnt-out ruins of the Old Armory Temporary, a barracks-like building that had been “temporary” for over twenty years. Nobody knew whether it had been torched by protestors or had just succumbed to faulty wiring.

We walked up the steps to the library and began searching the card catalogs and encyclopedias. Around noon we broke for lunch to have a sandwich in the Gold Feather Room of the student union, just two blocks away. Then it was back to research. At three o’clock we left the library and drove to the Rock Island Lines station.

The railroad was trying to get rid of its last trains through Iowa City. The ominous “Notice of Proposed Discontinuance of Service” was posted on the doors of the red-brick depot. I bought a one-way ticket to Chicago after learning that Train No. 10 was half an hour late. Helena kissed me and said she needed to return to the library.

“There was something blocking us back at the library—something so powerful that I could feel it,” she said. ”Whatever it was, and it must have come from a third-degree master, the block on my mind is gone. Our adversary now believes he has won. I have at least forty-five minutes before the train arrives. I do not believe the story is a real stream of history, but I must be sure.”

After thirty minutes, I became worried. She seemed to have known what she was looking for. As No. 10’s maroon engines rumbled across Clinton Street, I stood on the platform, looking down the street for the sight of Helena’s car. After the train stopped and the conductor opened the vestibule door for detraining passengers, I heard a faint voice calling my name. I turned, and there was Helena, running toward me, a block away, her long jet-black hair in disarray.

“All aboard,” said the conductor. I stepped aside and let the other passengers board. Helena was still running. “This train won’t wait,” said the conductor.

“It’s a fake!” yelled Helena as the conductor was trying to get me to board. It was one of the few times I’d heard her use a contraction. The conductor closed up the coach door as the engineer gave two short blasts on the horn. I ran toward her. Helena, out of breath and drenched in sweat, threw herself into my arms just as the train was leaving. After her breathing had returned to normal, she said, “Nguyen Chi Thanh died in 1967. And there was nothing in the articles to explain why he was the Viet Cong representative.”

“What happened to your car?” I asked.

“Vandalized. Whoever delivered that chest was desperate to send your soul back into the past. He did not count on my running the eight blocks to the station. I should not be at all surprised if you were to meet with a hit-and-run accident back in 1965.”

We walked back to the library, where Helena used a payphone to call police, the insurance company, and the towing service. As soon as the car was on its way to You Smash ‘Em, I Fix ‘Em, we took the Manville Heights bus to our apartment. The chest, no longer one of hope and dread, was still there in the living room.

“You need a place to put your train timetables,” she said. “But first, let us celebrate that we are still together.”

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Please visit Stephen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Stephen-Wylder-810195968998821/

DR. PAUL’S FAMILY TALK: Sue Coletta

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Impact Radio USA

Host Paul W. Reeves of “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Impact Radio USA has provided many interesting and informative interviews with authors, some members of Writers Unite!, who have impacted the world of writing. We will be posting these interviews periodically so that you can enjoy listening to the experiences and advice these authors offer.

Join host and WU! admin, Paul W. Reeves as he talks with award-winning and best-selling author Sue Coletta from a show broadcast on December 12, 2018.

Click to listen to the podcast of the radio show interview:  https://pod.co/impact-radio-usa/author-sue-coletta-12-12-18

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SUE COLETTA, a prolific, award-winning, and bestselling author, called in to tell us about her life as a Crime Writer.

From her Website: “Sue’s passion is crime. She’s a proud member of Sisters In Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Kill Zone, which is home to 11 top suspense writers and publishing professionals who cover the publishing biz, marketing how-to’s, and the craft of writing. Each day, they open the doorway into the world of the working writer. You can find out more about the Kill Zone in About me.If you’re a crime lover, like Sue, join her Crime Lover’s Lounge, and be the first to know about contests, giveaways, new releases, and have secret access to the lounge. Inside, folks crack crime puzzles against the best in law enforcement. All the cool kids hang at the Crime Lover’s Lounge.”

For more information on author, Sue Coletta, and to order her books, please visit her website at: https://www.suecoletta.com

Also find Sue on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SueColetta1/

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Host Paul Reeves

A product of the Detroit area, Wayne State University, and Eastern Michigan University, Paul W. Reeves, Ed.D, has spent over 30 years as a professional educator and musician, as well as his work as a radio talk show host and author.

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Launched in the spring of 2017, their goal is to keep you as the most informed Internet Radio audience. Click on the link below for the station’s complete show lineup!

http://www.impactradiousa.com
(click on the LISTEN NOW button)

DR. PAUL’S FAMILY TALK: Dave Noe

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Impact Radio USA

Host Paul W. Reeves of “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Impact Radio USA has provided many interesting and informative interviews with authors, some members of Writers Unite!, who have impacted the world of writing. We will be posting these interviews periodically so that you can enjoy listening to the experiences and advice these authors offer.

Join host and WU! admin, Paul W. Reeves as he talks with author and comic/graphic novel publisher Dave Noe from a show broadcast on October 30, 2017.

Click to listen to the podcast of the radio show interview:  https://pod.co/impact-radio-usa/author-david-noe-10-30-17

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David Noe lives in the middle of the United States and has written several books.

Many of his books, like Trade of the Tricks and Odds and Ends, are light and funny and action-filled. Others like Minsa, are adult and dark. Some are poetry collections like Scanner Code. His nonfiction guide to rentals and renting is called, Living In Someone Else’s House. It’s filled with great advice and incredible true stories and experiences from thirty years in the rental business.

His latest collection is called simply, KIN. It’s short stories and poetry about family that will make you laugh and cry. As for the laughing part, Voices In My Pen, is an insane romp through David’s mind. It’s filled with wacky poems and lists and stories and jokes. It’s kooky and clever with satire and parody and nonsense!

He has jumped headfirst into the realm of graphic novels with All-New Popular Comics, a genre-jumping adventure series of short comic book stories featuring characters from the now-defunct Dell Comics Group and introducing brand new characters too! He and a band of other writers and artists tackle a new old universe full of amazing tales.

Similarly, in prose form, he has created an entire city in Welcome to Honeycomb, USA. In it, he has invited other authors to join in his sandbox to bring this 1950 small town to life as it lives on the edge of a new era.

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Learn more about Dave and all the work he has published since the air date of this interview on Facebook and his publishing website:

https://www.facebook.com/dave.noe.7

https://www.facebook.com/AmazingThingsPress1/

https://www.amazon.com/David-Noe/e/B00YNQZVAQ/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

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Host Paul Reeves

A product of the Detroit area, Wayne State University, and Eastern Michigan University, Paul W. Reeves, Ed.D, has spent over 30 years as a professional educator and musician, as well as his work as a radio talk show host and author.

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Launched in the spring of 2017, their goal is to keep you as the most informed Internet Radio audience. Click on the link below for the station’s complete show lineup!

http://www.impactradiousa.com
(click on the LISTEN NOW button)

Lynn Miclea: New Earth

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

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

New Earth

By Lynn Miclea

BEEP BEEP BEEP!

Nikki peered at the navigation panel and adjusted the controls. Then she reviewed the instrument readout — they were back on course. Every now and then, something altered their course. There were numerous and constant variables and possibilities, and a slight adjustment was periodically needed. She checked it often, and was glad the parameters were set to sound an audible alarm if anything needed attention.

“Everything okay?” Captain Rosita Esperanza Reyes sat behind her on the bridge. She was a good captain, strong, capable, knowledgeable, and always maintaining control. And she was also fair with everyone. Nikki both liked and respected her.

“Yes, just a minor adjustment needed. We’re on course.” Nikki glanced at the captain and then looked back at the controls. She checked the transmission data and nodded. Everything was good.

She tapped her foot as a wave of anxiety moved through her. It had been eight months since they had left Earth. She clearly remembered the launch, the strong vibration, the intense shaking, and the heavy pull on her body. She remembered closing her eyes and praying, as fear shook her body every bit as powerfully as the thrust engines.

They had left Earth out of desperation. It was their last chance. The violence on Earth had increased to an unsustainable level. Country against country, and person against person. Fighting about land, race, nationality, religion … and the greed of the wealthy that had plunged so many people below poverty levels. But the violence was the worst. It had kept escalating. She kept hoping for peace and trusted in the goodness of people, but lasting peace never came. And finally — the last devastating action. The nuclear war. The bombs. She shivered as the graphic memories hit her.

As life on Earth continued to become unlivable, a small group of people were chosen to relocate to another planet that had been discovered. A habitable planet, much like Earth, a short distance away through a wormhole. Breathable atmosphere, temperature within a tolerable range, and water. It was workable. And it was the only way mankind would survive. They needed to leave Earth and start again.

It had been planned for years, even before the recent wars. It had been a just-in-case, worst-case scenario. But it happened. They would have to completely start over. Life on a new planet.

If only this weren’t necessary. But it was. The horrific memories were burned into her brain, and she could never forget them. She shook her head, trying to rid herself from those horrible images of death, pain, and suffering.

After what happened on Earth, they had all decided and agreed to bring no weapons whatsoever. They knew the 3-D printer onboard would be able to create a weapon if needed against an unknown danger on this new planet, but it was unlikely that would be necessary. And after what had escalated on Earth, they wanted nothing to do with weapons.

Now she needed to look to the future. The top scientific minds were onboard, and they had the skills and ability to create a new home. A new life. She needed to stay positive. There was no other choice.

And Jonathan was onboard too. An expert in both aerospace and mechanical engineering, he had been one of the first few chosen for this endeavor. Nikki had met him three months ago as they were busy with preparations for this mission. Their connection was instant and strong, and she was glad he was here. She needed a friend, a partner, and a lover to help in this transition.

They were now almost at the new planet. This had to work. She checked the navigation display again. They would be there tomorrow morning.

Eva came by right on time and relieved her on the bridge. Nikki caught her up to date, stretched, and then left. It was good to get away for a little bit. The staff meeting in preparation for landing would be in two hours, and she was feeling antsy.

She went to the small gym at the back of the ship. It would be good to work off her nervous energy, and she knew it was important to stay in shape for whatever was coming. She stepped onto the treadmill, adjusted the speed and grade, and was soon lost in her thoughts as she jogged.

Two hours later, she sat at the conference table in the meeting room. Captain Reyes commanded the room, her powerful presence projecting strength and instilling confidence in all the staff. “Okay everyone, we will be landing tomorrow morning on schedule. Jamil,” she said, turning to the geologic and atmospheric expert. “How are conditions on our new planet?”

Jamil looked up from his notes. “Fine, Captain. From what we can tell, the air is breathable, a combination of oxygen and nitrogen, and temperature in a comfortable range. Humidity is low but reasonable. I’ll know more after we land and will check it again before we leave the ship. But it all looks good by my calculations.”

“Thank you, Jamil.” She turned to Haruto Tominaga, renowned for his expertise in physics and also for being a top-notch musician. “Haruto, what is your analysis of our approach, landing, and anything you can foresee for the next few days?”

Haruto nodded. “Everything is good, Captain. I foresee no problems at this point. My calculations show that as we enter the atmosphere…” As he went into further detail, Nikki’s mind wandered to the last time she had heard him play the cello. He was magnificent when he played, and the music always deeply moved her. She hoped he had brought the cello onboard. She closed her eyes, hearing the melodies in her mind.

She suddenly opened her eyes and saw Jonathan watching her, a smirk on his face. She smiled at him and looked around at the rest of the crew. The level of expertise and experience in the room was astounding, and the diversity in background filled her with hope for a compassionate human experience in building a new world. These people were committed to making a good start for all of humanity. She focused again on the captain.

“…so you all know what to do when we land,” the captain was saying. “I want the first crew of twelve to scout out the area for thirty minutes only. Take measurements, be aware of your surroundings, and observe everything carefully. Then we meet at the entrance to the ship. If there are no problems, and everything looks good, the second crew of twelve will join the first crew, and we will explore farther out. I want feedback as to possible locations for housing and for planting. Look for a source of water. I want to know all impressions and everything that you observe, including any possible problems. Then we will systematically expand our search area from there.” She looked at each member. “And the first team, for the initial outing, do not go more than three hundred yards. I want our first excursion safe and close. Understood?”

***

At dinner, Nikki barely touched her food. “Eat something,” Jonathan told her, as he took another bite of chicken marsala. “You need to eat.” He gestured at her food with his fork. “You need your strength.”

Nikki stared at her food and pushed it around, and finally speared a potato with her fork. “I know. I’m just too nervous to eat. But you’re right.” She shoved the potato into her mouth. “Mmmm, this is actually really good. You’re right. I need to eat.”

“I’m so excited, and also a little nervous.” Jonathan reached over and squeezed her hand, his rich dark skin in contrast to her pale, freckled skin. “There will be so much to do here. And so many possibilities for this new world.” He took another bite of chicken.

“I know. This world holds so much promise. And we have really good people onboard.”

“Only the best,” he said as he chewed. “Including you,” he added, smiling.

They finished eating, listening to the excited chatter fill the small cafeteria as other crew members sat down with their meals. Nikki and Jonathan got up, cleaned their table, and placed the dirty dishes in the pile to be washed.

Jonathan pulled Nikki into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “We’re landing tomorrow,” he said softly. “It’s amazing we’re actually here.”

“I know. I can’t believe it’s here already. I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep tonight.” She buried her face in his chest, feeling his warmth. She treasured the few moments of peace and comfort with him before the commotion and tasks she knew would be coming the next day.

Once back in her quarters, Nikki read through all the information she had on this new planet for the hundredth time. She had read it through so many times that she had it almost memorized, but she needed to read it again anyway. This was going to be their new home.

As expected, she barely slept. She kept waking up throughout the night, checking the clock, and trying to go back to sleep. She finally slept a couple hours and then bolted awake at 6:00 a.m., covered in sweat.

After a quick shower, she nervously picked at and managed to eat a breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries, and a hard-boiled egg, washed it down with orange juice, and then hurried back to the bridge. It was almost time to land on New Earth.

“No problems,” Eva said and smiled when Nikki approached to relieve her. “We’re on course, and everything looks fine.” Eva yawned and quickly left the bridge, as Nikki thanked her. 

Nikki sat at the navigation board and checked the time, course, coordinates, trajectory, speed, and other readouts. All looked good. They would touch down in one hour.

It was hard to sit still. They were finally reaching the end of this part of their journey and starting a whole new one, full of unknowns. A bright new beginning. This had to work, and she was sure it would. This was not going to be the end of humanity.

She stared at the planet as it came into view and grew larger on the monitor. Her heart fluttered. It was beautiful. Blues, greens, browns, and white clouds. It already looked like home. She licked her dry lips. They were almost there. Almost home.

Alarm bells clanged throughout the ship. “Please prepare for landing,” the automated voice announced. It was time.

Creases appeared on her forehead as she focused and concentrated, guiding the ship down to the planet’s surface. She reduced the speed and changed the angle. She felt the pressure on the ship change. Almost down. A loud whine filled the bridge, followed by a whooshing noise. The ship thumped and then bounced as it landed on the surface, thumped once more, and then came to a rest. Silence.

Nikki glanced at Captain Reyes and then looked out the main viewport. A small brownish dust cloud had been kicked up and it momentarily blocked her view. The dust cloud slowly dissipated, and as the view cleared, she looked out in wonder.

A panorama opened before her — brown dirt, a few small green plants, and a structure off to the left side. Brilliant sunlight flooded the entire vista. It looked sparse, but beautiful. The first view of their new home.

Captain Reyes leaned forward. “Nikki, call the first landing crew to meet in fifteen minutes in Landing Bay One.”

“Yes, Captain.” She transmitted the message to the crew and immediately received confirmation from each one. “They’re all ready, Captain.”

Fifteen minutes later, the twelve crew members stood in Landing Bay One. “Everyone ready?” Captain Reyes looked at each member. “Jamil, any update on atmospheric conditions? Are we good to go?”

“Yes, Captain,” Jamil answered. “Everything is as expected. I see no problems.”

“Good. When we descend onto the planet,” she continued, addressing the entire group, “be careful with everything, from walking to breathing. No matter how prepared we are, it will be somewhat different in real time. I will remain on the planet with you but at the entrance to the ship in case of any problems. And don’t forget — for our initial outing, go out no more than three hundred yards, and we meet back here in thirty minutes. Are we all clear?” Everyone nodded. “Good. Then let’s go.”

It was time. Jonathan punched the buttons and the door slowly opened with a soft whoosh. A breezy warmth with a light but foreign fragrance reached them as the first twelve slowly descended the six stairs and took their first steps on the new planet.

It was magnificent. Nikki took a deep breath. It was dusty, but sweet. Clean. Breathable. Warm.

Jonathan moved next to her and rubbed her back. “You doing okay?”

She nodded. “Our first steps on a new planet. This is beyond exciting.”

“I know. This will be our new home.”

Nikki pointed to the left. “Let’s check out that structure. I want to see what that is.”

She felt her excitement building. What wonders awaited them on this new world?

Nikki felt Jonathan’s warm hand clasp hers, and they walked together toward the structure. What was it? Was it a fort? A home? A shelter? Who or what had built this?

Reaching the structure, she realized it was larger than it had initially appeared. There were three smaller structures attached to the first, with large rooms inside. They hesitantly entered the first part of the building.

A tremble of fear coursed through Nikki, and goosebumps rose on her arms. She looked around in the first structure, exploring. There were three rooms and steps that led up to a second level. It had obviously been built by an intelligent species. How was that possible? This planet had no known life forms other than plants.

Something caught her eye. Something dark on the ground near one wall. What was that? She stepped closer.

Her hand started reaching toward it. Then she quickly pulled it back and gasped.

NO!

She held her breath. She couldn’t breathe. Her hand flew to her mouth, her eyes wide with shock.

Jonathan was at her side and she pointed. She heard him gasp.

A gun lay on the ground. A man-made handgun from Earth. A human weapon.

Humans had been here before and they had brought weapons with them. Where were they now? What happened to them? Had they killed each other on this planet? Was this going to be no different than how it was on Earth?

Excited but muffled shouts from other crew members sounded a short distance away.

Nikki looked into Jonathan’s eyes. “What happened here? What happened to these people? And how can we tell our crew? Humans have been here before.”

Jonathan swallowed hard. “We need to tell the captain. She needs to know this.”

Nikki nodded, feeling the lump in her throat. “Will we ever learn to live in peace?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered, as they turned and left the structure to rejoin their crew.

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Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

Enzo Stephens: Meet American Men dot com…

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

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

Admin Note: He tried. But Enzo needed more words for this story so we let him have a few more. This is Part One. Part Two will be posted tomorrow.

Meet American Men dot com…

By Enzo Stephens

Part One

A woman of minute physical stature moves rapidly along a spongy, mud-caked trail that may have been carved out by human hands or perhaps a parade of wildlife, one year ago or a hundred years ago. Time moves differently deep in bayou country.

The swamp is flooded by the distant Mississippi that seems to deluge the lowlands anytime a drop of rain plops into its swirling, murky depths. The burgeoning swamp oft tickles the edges of the worn trail, lapping at bent grass and algae and turning the path into a shoe-sucking mess of unpredictable bog.

It is still here, the deep, pervasive silence one finds in ancient forests miles deep and endless swamps where noise is nothing short of utterly invasive. 

It is here that we find this diminutive woman urgently pushing a baby stroller. An egret squawks in the distance, its peal duly noted by ancient cypresses dripping moss and blotting sun, but it sets the woman on edge.

No sound emanates from the depths of the stroller, which is shrouded in a black mesh covering intended to keep mosquitos away from its precious cargo; the woman plunges on through the squishy path and the torpid viscous air without seeming regard for the welfare of the stroller’s occupant.

She mutters. Often. Angrily, and often accompanied by twitchy shakes of her head, which sends thick, tangled snarls of hair whipping around. A hapless mosquito gets knocked out of its quest to have a bit of dinner from the woman’s head by a whipping tendril.

She stops abruptly, so still she looks to be dead, while several feet before her at the edge of the swamp rests a large alligator, swamp slime oozing off its thick hide as it lies half in half out of the tepid water.

A person less experienced with these beasts would presume its quiescence to be that of a lazy semi-slumber, but the agitated woman is much wiser. Sneaky bastard. 

She slowly extracts a long switch from a strap that holds it close to her lean, taut back, her movements slow, precise and gradual, imperceptible to the great lizard. In an eye-blink the switch snaps out, whacking the gator’s left front foot resoundingly, and its response is both violent and predictable. Its head turns to the left with deceptive quickness; cavernous, gaping jaws suddenly snapping down with a booming crack that echoes across the sullen waters of the bayou, and yet the little slip of a woman is already beyond the gator’s reach by several yards.

She chuckles and mutters and sets off again at her frenetic pace, shrouded stroller wobbling over the rough, sodden trail, her old Nikes making sucking sounds that mark her progress. She glances to the west to see the sun dipping low, offers a quick yelp and sets to her stride with increased vigor, her old tattered black skirt billowing out behind her as she’s practically running now.

She thinks back to the time the gator almost won, almost got her, and she only thinks along these lines to avoid the encroaching panic that’s threatening to engulf her in nameless terror that seems to increase exponentially with each passing tick of time that marks the sun’s descent into the abyss.

She has to get home before it gets dark; who knows what’s in the cypress and what nasties come out of the dangling drapes of fetid moss.

The slight woman veers sharply to the left as she spies a dim yellow glow from behind a cellophane window in her home; the glass from that window destroyed long ago when she…

​​​​​^^

Marny Corozco stepped off the airplane at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on a chilly day — chilly by Manilla standards — in January. She stopped at the end of the deplane lane to get her bearings and struggled to pick her jaw up from the floor as she looked around in wide-eyed wonder.

Sure she viewed pictures of the airport — well, of New Orleans for that matter on the internet back in Manilla, but pictures did not do this … expanse any justice. The place was huge!

Somebody bumped into Marny from behind, grumbled something about something called a ‘rube’ and poked past her, followed by a stream of Americans dragging little suitcases on wheels and pushing baby strollers with no babies in them.

The sight of the empty baby strollers caused Marny’s heart to jolt with a sudden wrench of painful loss. She ached to hold her son Jose and was surprised at the sudden wash of tears dampening her cheeks.

She brushed her face angrily, spied massive signs for ‘Baggage Claim’ and turned in that direction, long ebon hair whipping behind her.

But while Marny was resolute in her stride, she was assailed by powerful, knee-crippling doubt.

What if he wasn’t there to meet her? What would she do? A new country, new city, amid a people she knew little about and barely enough money to buy a large bubble tea. She kept her eyes and heart hopeful that God would see her through this change of life and protect her and her young son who she left in Manilla in the care of her eternally judgmental mother.

Yet she could not contain her anxiety as her feet found a down escalator. She kept her eyes focused on her feet, afraid to look up at the expanse of milling people and not see him.

He was so different from all the other men Marny had known to that point in her life; he was kind, his big brown eyes expressive, yet penetrating, and though Marny’s English was terribly broken and well sprinkled with Tagalog, she could always find a connection with Lee through his eyes.

He radiated warmth, which was incredibly surprising considering the couple had only communicated virtually. Funny how that happened. Marny remembered the first time they’d chatted; it was a little flirtatious at first, but then Lee punched through the silliness of first meetings between a man and a woman and touched her heart by asking her how she really felt about — well, whatever. Marny’s experience with men up to that point simply didn’t involve exploration of her thoughts and feelings, merely exploration of her body.

And the means that made this meeting, this major life-change for Marny come about, was through a website that seemed pretty stupid to Marny at the time, although her best friend swore by it. MeetAmericanMen dot com.

And yet it seemed as though God led Marny straight to the site because within minutes she found Lee, and in so doing Marny found her new life.

He was always so easy going, so easy to talk to. He looked a little odd; a little older, long hair with blond mustache and beard and wide eyes that seemed to be touched with a hint of sadness that Marny instantly fell in love with.

She told him about Jose, her son. She told him about Jose’s father, how he used her and threw her aside. About how the Philippine culture casts a dark eye on contraceptives, leaving a young Marny burgeoning with child at the age of sixteen and not even out of high school.

She was disgraced in the eyes of her family, and even though she bore a beautiful boy, her beautiful boy was all she had, and so she was desperate to change her lot in life and the sooner the better.

Time wore on, jobs got shittier and shittier until she was practically hooking, and yet through it all was Lee. Ten-thousand-miles-away Lee, encouraging her, gently nudging her to make the move, step out of her comfort zone and come to America.

Manilla was no comfort zone.

When he displayed a pre-paid ticket with the words ‘Japan Air Lines’ (from Manilla to New Orleans via Tokyo and New York City), well that was all she wrote. She begged her Nanay to take care of Jose until she could send for him, packed clothes and a few possessions and set off to change her life and her good fortune, fully confident that God was finally smiling on her.

Marny stepped off the escalator, meandered her way to the appropriate baggage carousel and scanned the milling crowds again for her Lee, and then she saw him, striding purposefully through the door. Marny suppressed an overwhelming urge to go to him as a part of her tended to shy away from public displays of affection. 

Instead, she watched him, her luggage completely forgotten as she studied him; his lean frame, long, wispy hair; tattered, worn denims topped with a black tee shirt and bottomed with a pair of sandals. The tee shirt displayed the words ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd,’ something that had no meaning whatsoever to Marny.

He stopped inside the entrance to the terminal, his eyes bright, so blue they seemed to glow, and scanned the crowd alertly, roving, roving, until they landed on her; their eyes locked across the crowd, smiles bloomed and they rushed to meet each other in crushing hugs and passionate kisses. Public Displays of Affectation be damned.

​​​​​^^

Marny was struggling.

She was trying to make catfish adobo in a cast-iron skillet on a rickety old propane gas stove that made her pine for the stove she had back home in Manilla. In fact, Marny was missing home in a big way, mainly because every day spent in this hell-hole with Lee was pissing her off more and more.

Catfish adobo! Yuk! The honeymoon was over.

The beautiful meeting they had in the airport morphed into silence for the long drive to Lee’s house, which was plopped at the end of a miles-long rutted path that veered off a winding two-lane blacktop. Marny was fine with the quiet as she was trying to absorb the alien landscape in this place.

Everything was … wet! Not dissimilar from the land around her childhood home in Ilagan, except for the huge, old trees and the creepy-assed moss that hung off of everything in sight.

There was a smell here too … rot! She glanced at Lee, noting the long, lean, sinewy arm covered with fine blond fur that clamped loosely on the steering wheel of the jostling pick-up he was slinging around with ease. Marny wondered if he smelled it. His eyes seemed a little … vacant. That gave her a little jolt of fear.

“What is that smell, Lee?”

“I dunno.”

“How much farther, I will have to pee!”

“Not long.”

And that was it for the rest of the bumping, tortuous ride.

Lee’s beat-up truck’s brakes squealed as he brought the truck to a halt facing a rambling, ramshackle one-story clapboard house that sprawled out in a way that gave Marny a headache.

Lee opened the front door after disengaging a complex series of locks and showed Marny the bathroom which Marny utilized with blessed relief. Lee then gave her a quick tour of the house; it was clearly in need of a woman’s touch!

But not until Marny caught up on some sleep; jet-lag and all that, so Lee trundled her off to his huge bed (California King?), left a small night-light on for her and then sequestered himself away in his ‘Money Room.’

​​​​​^^

“Lee, what is this Money Room? You are in there so much.”

He sat at a battered old Formica kitchen table smoking a cigarette, staring out the window over the kitchen sink. “Nothing for you to be concerned about. Never go in there.”

Marny wasn’t satisfied with Lee’s response. “But I am concerned; you are in there so much. What is in there for you that is taking you away from me like that?”

Lee stood abruptly; his chair clattering to the floor. He turned to face her across the large room. “I told you … it’s. None. Of. Your. Business.” His tone was low and almost a growl and Marny shrank back from his ferocity and his blazing eyes.

She backed up a step. “Okay, it is nothing!”

He glared at her, fury and hatred naked in his eyes, then just as rapidly the fire in Lee’s eyes extinguished; he waved long fingers in the air in her general direction, a gesture of dismissal. 

Marny’s curiosity was a force within her though, and Lee’s dismissiveness caused painful memories of her father doing the same. Marny’s tongue grew bold. “Is it the pornography, Lee? Is that what you are doing in there?”

Lee DuClair strode to a battered steel kitchen sink, his back to Marny. She yearned to go to him, to let him know that she loved him regardless of the pornography. It was a bad thing, soul-sucking and destructive, and men usually needed help to get away from it. Marny vowed to help Lee in his plight and then they could grow together and Jose could finally be with her and maybe they could have their own babies, regardless of the forbidding swampland.

She stepped up behind Lee and circled her arms around his waist, his back towering above her, and she nuzzled her face into his tee shirt. 

Only to find herself sprawled out on the floor several feet away from him, stars reeling against encroaching blackness in her head. 

He hit her, so fast she had no idea it was coming, and it was difficult to comprehend. As she struggled to raise her stunned self from the floor, she heard Lee talking, his body turned sideways, and in his hand was a black hunting knife that seemed to suck the light out of the room.

“You poor little Asian women from all those shit countries — the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, whatever. You’re so damned easy.

“Idiots pony up whatever shekels or pesos or whatever other kind of garbage currency you pin your vapid hopes and dreams on and shell them out to people like me, people who see and smell your desperation from half a world away. 

“Meet American Men dot com.” He snorted in derision. “Pure genius on my part.” He glanced at Marny trembling in a pile on the floor. 

“You’re not the first, you know. I’ve had other women like you, brought them over here without a pot to piss in, gave ’em a roof over their head and screwed their brains out, though that last part got boring. One of ’em I knocked out and tossed her into the drink and watched her wake up screaming and sputtering only to watch her get eaten alive.

“Boy once you see that, you’ve seen it all.” He looked wistfully out the kitchen window, then, “You dipshits made me rich.” Lee dragged the edge of the wickedly-curved blade across the shirt sleeve of his tee-shirt, leaving a thin diagonal slice in the material. “That is one sharp mutha.”

He chuckled, and it sounded dirty, feral, guttural, and everything inhuman about Man that Marny could imagine in the one or two seconds she had to contemplate the escalating situation she found herself in.

Panic kicked in, a blast of adrenaline surged through her veins, propelling her to her sandal-clad feet and into a full gallop in a split-second. Marny slammed her shoulder into Lee’s side, knocking him into the side of the sink, the side of his head taking the brunt of the impact. He tumbled to the floor, knife clattering beside him.

Marny didn’t wait around to see what would happen next; she snared the knife, bolted to the door and flung it open hard enough for it to crack off the opposing wall, and she raced out into the bayou night, terror kicking caution in the ass.

She ran full-bore, stumbling over tree roots and mud that threatened to send her sprawling face first into the dank, stinking and pervasive mud. But Marny held her balance and tore off into the night, her senses focused intently on what she hoped was Lee’s house far, far behind.

Distantly she heard a door slam. Lee! She found a thick bole shrouded in Spanish moss and ducked behind it

“Marny?” Distant, muffled, but then Marny’s head was still reeling from Lee’s punch. A light breeze rippled the obfuscating moss and tickled her shoulders. Something landed on top of her head; she yipped and swiped at it in a panic; something furry and about the size of her hand flew off her and Marny found herself on the run again.

She raced away from what she thought was the direction of Lee’s house; images of him creeping stealthily through the night chasing her. Her foot caught on a tree root and she sprawled into the muck, her left hand landing on a wonderful round rock. Crazily Marny thought that it would make for a good weapon to use on Lee; inflict some blunt force trauma.

But the rock moved, and before she fully processed that event, a ripping searing pain shrieked out from her left hand and she bolted to her feet, backing away from whatever it was that did whatever it did to her. She turned to face dim moonlight and held her hand up in front of her face, only to discover the pinkie and ring finger were … not there.

Shock was setting in as she turned slowly to see what ravaged her hand; she saw the ever-present stinking water ripple and saw that moving rock that was no rock but what looked to be a turtle. Where are my fingers?

Panic kicked in again and she applied the knife to her cotton skirt, slicing a strip of material that she wrapped around her suddenly throbbing left hand, clamping pressure down on the place where her fingers once were.

Marny wasn’t aware of it, but she became aware of sitting in the middle of a swatch of thick, stinking muck when the moisture seeped through her skirt and underwear. She struggled to her feet, then turned in a full circle, wondering what in the world she was going to do next.

Part Two:

Despair washed over Marny, thoroughly inundating her. Why bother getting up? Why bother running, fighting? She was done; may as well have a seat and let the bayou fold her lifeless self into its deep, dank depths.

Just kill me now.

Then, far off in the distance, “Well fuck ya then, bitch. Let the swamp have ya. You ain’t worth the chase!”

Marny’s teeth flashed in the moonlight. A nameless, faceless rage surged within her and she seethed inwardly. She looked at her mangled hand, then at the knife clutched with a death grip in her other hand — she’d forgotten about that knife.

Her hand throbbed, but the pain pushed her to move, to get busy making sure she would survive this night and then the next day and so on.

Marny wobbled slightly as she made her way back to the cypress that hid her before, struggling to hold an encroaching fog of weariness at bay. If she failed, the swamp would have her and she’d be unable to fulfill her new mission in life…

Ay may masamang masira! Marny has an evil to destroy, and she’d not be able to destroy it if she were swamp-fodder. Kailangang mamatay si Lee. Lee has to die, and it would be by Marny’s hand.

First things first. Need the following to survive: fire, water and food. She chuckled to herself; just a few hours ago Marny was complaining about catfish adobo. Now she’d kill for it.

​​​​​^^

Marny slams the door against the setting sun. She moves to the broken window patched haphazardly with a sheet of plastic wrap that flutters in the slight evening breeze, and presses the lower edges of it against strips of double-sided tape to shut out the night. Marny has no idea of how to replace a window and has no intent of bringing a handyman out to the house to put a new one in.

No one from the outside can be allowed to see how she lives.

She peels back the black shroud from the baby stroller to reveal several fat, dead catfish. She pushes the stroller to a freezer chest, pops the lid and transfers the dead fish into the freezer. They stink, smelling like fetid, odiferous swamp water, but they’re food, and the more food she has at hand, the less she has to go out in public to get it.

She wipes her fish-smelling hands on her long, tattered skirt, then moves to a small vanity with a speckled mirror, picks up her hairbrush and tackles the tangles and snarls therein with an angry vengeance, muttering curses with each stroke. Finally satisfied with the lustrous sheen of her mane, she leans forward to wipe her face clean, then reaches for a few cosmetics; eye shadow, lip gloss, a simple foundation, and then sets to making herself appear pretty.

Satisfied, she pulls a simple tee shirt from a drawer, unclips her tattered bra and slips into the tee shirt, shaking her hair free to give it a nice, tousled appearance so it looks like she just climbed out of bed. A quick scan in the mirror and Marny concludes that yes, she is indeed extremely hot.

Marny strides across the main room of the house to another room closed off by a door. She takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, her eyes glittering as a predatory smile settles on her face; a smile of superiority; a smile of knowing that she’s about to reel in something much more dangerous than catfish.

​​​​​^^

Marny strode out of her tiny warren built of tree-fall and brush and held together with strips of bark, a tiny wisp of smoke from her perpetual fire trickling into the still air. It would be a beacon were it not for the ever-present cypress trees and the disgusting shrouds of moss.

Morning in the bayou was when it was at its freshest, and it was the time of day Marny enjoyed the most. 

She wandered several dozen yards to a latrine ditch she dug out by hand and used the ‘facilities,’ scowling as she came to acknowledge that it was almost time to bury this one and dig another one; something else to curse at Lee about.

It was time to see about food and water for the day, and so Marny set out carrying an old helmet she’d found to the edge of the water where she took a healthy scoop and trundled back to her warren to pour it into an old iron pot she also found in an abandoned hut some few miles off. Marny repeated this several times, and then set to banking the fire to boil the water. She then arranged the tree-fall to help dissipate the smoke, and then set off along an old, barely discernible trail.

There were times when she truly missed the last two fingers of her left hand; there were times when they felt as if they were still there. And then she’d curse the snapping turtle that violated her hand roundly. Lately her curses had been intermingled with laughter, and not for the first time did Marny wonder if she were going crazy.

She also found herself keeping a running dialogue of chatter that she was unaware of giving voice to. Didn’t matter, Marny rationalized the need for that chatter to keep from going crazy. 

“Here little fishies, time for you to come to your nanay so I can eat you up, you know you wanna feed my belly to make me strong to kill that evil…”

And so it went as Marny went, stopping now and again to pull at some lines along the water’s edge that were held in place by very heavy rocks. She arrived at another such ‘fishing station’ and was rewarded when one of the lines she pulled went taut. Dinner! She pulled and pulled and finally a hefty catfish broke the surface; Marny yanked violently on the line and the catfish plopped and flopped on the mucky trail. Marny took a thick stick that was attached to a makeshift belt at her waist and whacked the head of the fish until it quit moving. Satisfied, she replaced the stick and set to freeing the hook…

Something powerful yanked her off her feet by her skirt. She whipped her head around to see a fat gator clamped onto her long skirt, backing up into the water, and panic surged in Marny; she had to get free before that thing submerged or it would take her with it and then she was done.

She scrabbled at her belt as the monster heaved her along with it, its thick tail breaking into the fetid water and she knew her time was running out. Her hand landed on the black-bladed hunting knife she stole from Lee and she wrenched it free then buried it in the snout of the beast with a scream.

The thing started whipping its head from side to side, at first hauling Marny along with it, but she managed to cut and rip her skirt until she tumbled free of the wounded beast, taking the knife with her. She bolted to her feet, skittering backwards, the realization what she just survived slamming into her with the force of an emotional wrecking ball.

The ’gator slipped back into the water, a piece of her skirt hanging out of its mouth. Marny watched, her chest heaving, trying to settle her fluttering heart, when the still water before her erupted in a churning fury of converging ’gators, all hungry for a bit of cannibalism.

Marny raced back to her warren where she huddled for long and long, catfish and dinner forgotten, but her smoldering rage against Lee newly stoked.

​​​​^^

Days flowed into nights and back into days and Marny lost count, and the amount of time passed didn’t seem to matter. Life was survival, but it was becoming a bit easier for Marny.

She explored, finding another shack with passable relics of women’s clothing that she had to shake vermin and spiders from, but skirts and shirts were there to be had.

Marny kept her warren and continued to improve on it, patching and solidifying the makeshift roof and building up a wall of stones for more protection. No ’gators wandered into her lair, but other creatures found it enticing; all ended up as cooked meat for Marny’s dinner.

She also kept watch on Lee; it became the high point of her day when she could sneak around his house without him knowing. See him. Hate him. And when Marny saw him…

A torrent of emotion would burst and she’d be assailed by so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that it took everything in her power to hold herself in check to wait for the ‘right’ time. Everything, including giving herself a quick slash on the forearm or thigh just to steel her focus. Marny knew God would tell her when the time was right, and on a particularly dreary, rain-soaked day when the swamps threatened to extinguish her permanent fire, God spoke to Marny.

Beset with angry twitches, Marny felt fire and power within, and it fueled her the distance to Lee’s rambling house, and when he stepped outside, shirtless, well then it was time.

Marny snagged a low-hanging cypress tree branch and swung up to the roof, then crept to the front of the house where she crouched down to watch him stand outside and stretch expansively and then scratch himself.

She remembered the one time they were intimate, and she was utterly disgusted with herself. Suddenly an image of her son Jose floated before her mind’s eye, and then she had to drop to her belly in fear of him looking up and seeing her crying like a baby. Jose!

She silently sobbed because she’d forgotten what her child looked like. How was that possible?

There was a deafening crack that came from … right beneath her body! Then another and finally one more before the patch of roof she occupied collapsed into the main room of Lee’s house.

Several things happened at once; Marny tried to roll away, and as she did, she dropped the knife; a stray chunk of roof fell in and slapped her on the side of the head, knocking her to her back on the floor; and Lee burst in through the front door, yelling “What the f—?”

Marny’s senses sharpened and time slowed to a crawl. Detached, she watched herself snap to hand and feet and skitter away from Lee, who strode across the floor to where she was just a moment ago, a roar sounding off in the distance. His eyes were wide and blazing, red rimmed, and then Marny paused, watching him closely with her back against the wall.

He stopped and studied her. “You’re alive!”

“You figure that out all by yourself, Lee?” She barked his name as if it were profanity. Two sets of eyes found the knife simultaneously. He lunged for it and…

Marny let him. He stood brandishing the blade proudly, and Marny swept in, low, hands formed into talons, and she swiped with one hand to his exposed calf and the other toward his testicles. She scored with both and scampered out of the way of the downward arc of the swinging blade.

Lee howled, suddenly bent over at the waist. “You bitch!” he snarled as Marny skittered against the wall behind him, faster than he could turn his body, and Marny leapt landing on his back. Both combatants plummeted to the floor and the rage of centuries boiled forth from Marny.

She screeched over and over, her hands curled into claws, ripping, gouging, shredding, pummeling, thunderous blood rushing until her hands ran red and grew sticky with Lee’s blood, and still it wasn’t enough, but she pulled herself away, rolling off his back.

She gained her feet, breath heaving, adrenaline surging, and stared at the mess that was once Lee. Her eyes grew flat, emotionless, watching him, taking in the carnage and destruction of what was once his head. Marny didn’t want to see what was left of his face. She snatched the knife from his flaccid grip, then sank into a cross-legged seat.

Breath whistled in and out of him and she saw his chest move. Marny smiled, tucked the knife into her belt and darted into the bedroom, returning with a sheet. She laid it out and rolled him onto it. Then, with energy and strength borne out of insanity, she dragged his moaning self out of the house and across the trail to the swamp. Marny hauled him to the edge of it and dropped the sheet, now sodden with his blood, then backed to a cypress tree and settled down to catch her breath and watch the show. It wouldn’t be long. Marny hoped he would awaken soon, and then…

A groan, loud, and Lee’s long, inert body began to move. He turned his demolished, ruined face to Marny — she smiled when she saw that she did indeed claim an eye, and groaned again. Then, “You bitch—”

Just as a mammoth ’gator slammed behemoth jaws down on everything north of his navel; the sound of crunching bones would accompany Marny to her last breath. And Lee was gone in a froth of fetid swamp water.

​​​​^^

Marny changed the studio, getting rid of all the manly trappings that Lee once used, and replaced it with a spare bed and candles and decorative Christmas lights, drapes and crisp sheets. 

The desk chair is immensely comfortable, and Marny sits in it now, checking electronic boxes with blinking lights, and then she presses the power button to the powerful computer system she now commands, and it switches on and boots rapidly, flawlessly. She glances at a small table beside her in full view of the camera where a colorful array of ‘toys’ sits; everything is in order.

Marny taps a button and the mic activates; another button and the cam switches on, just as a picture of a Filipino swims into view, a man named Romeo. He is young and earnest and still just a man, a man that wants only one thing, and he is her newest subscriber. Marny smiles and…

“Welcome to Meet American Women dot com, Romeo.”

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