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Write the Story! July 2020

Write the Story! July 2020

The subway/train station from June’s  Write the Story! inspired great stories, some a bit scary! If you missed any of the terrific WTS! stories last month, check out the June 2020 archives.

Writers Unite! started this project to assist all of us to gain followers to our blogs, websites, and author pages and to gain experience as writers. We didn’t do this for accolades or critique but for enjoyment and to share our work with others. Now in the second year of WTS!, we thank all writers who have participated and all who have read and supported the authors. The admins appreciate the positive support you have given the authors.

The July 2020 Prompt!

Here’s the plan:

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

Send the story and link to the site via Facebook Messenger to Deborah Ratliff. Put “Write the Story” in the first line of the message. You may also email your story to writersunite16@gmail.comWU! will post your story on our blog and share across our platforms, FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We do ask that you share the link to your WU! Write the Story! post so that your followers can also read the works of your fellow writers. The idea is to generate increased traffic for all. It may take some time but it will happen if you participate. The other perk of this exercise is that you will also have a blog publishing credit for your work.

Periodically throughout the month, we will post the current prompt as a reminder. DO NOT post your story to this prompt. The idea is to have your STORY or poem published on your site, the WU! blog and shared to gain followers for your writing. We will not accept a one- or two-line caption. For the most part, we are fiction writers and poets…. please write a story or poem, not a caption. If you have any questions regarding this, you may ask the question in the comments. Thank you.

(Please note: all images used are free-use images that do not require attribution.)

Kenneth Lawson: Strangers in the Night

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

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

Strangers in the Night

Kenneth Lawson

 Saturday Morning

Footsteps echoed around me. My footsteps.

It crossed my mind someone might have followed me, but it couldn’t have been. My dark-colored sedan blended in with the rest of the cars on the road. And in the dark, it could look like either a dark blue or black or if the light hit it exactly right, even a purple of some sort. 

I tucked my badge safely away in the glove box of the car. If one cared to read the ID that went with it, it would say Lew Ayres, Detective First Class. The shield was gold. 

She came down the tunnel from the opposite direction that I came in. I knew she’d taken the same pains I had to throw off a tail. 

“You good?”

“Yeah, they don’t suspect a thing,” Detective Linda Malone reported.

“They think you’re an eccentric art collector from out west somewhere and looking to buy a rare painting and don’t much care where you get it.”

“They have it?”

“Yes. and they’re prepared to sell it to you for a million dollars cash.”

“You’re sure it’s real?”

“Yes, they say it is. I can’t question it too much, or they’ll get suspicious. But from what I’ve seen of it, it’s real, or an excellent fake.”

“Good. Set up the meeting.”

“They want to meet you at the Westberry Park, south side. They’ll be contacting you tomorrow. Here.” She handed me a paper with the name and address of the park on it.

“OK. I’ll get over there early and check it out.”

“Just don’t get spotted.”

“I know.”

 She turned, headed back where she came from and disappeared.

I watched her leave, then retraced my steps carefully to stay in the shadows once I was on the street again.

My experience last month with the prevention of the theft of several million dollars’ worth of bearer bonds and the potential hostile takeover of a small company gave me some creds and got me selected for this case.

The mission this time was to retrieve a stolen painting and return it to the museum. The thieves didn’t expect anyone would discover the painting missing until they set up the exhibit opening. However, alert security spotted it was missing from storage. The artwork needed to be back at the museum in less than a week for the opening. 

48 Hours Earlier

The museum had two security systems. The public one that everyone saw and heard. And the covert system that no one saw or heard. It was that system that alerted them to the theft of the painting.

The thieves disabled the primary system quickly and gained entry and exit through a secure back entrance. With the ongoing renovation in that part of the building, some cameras were out of service. Perfect setup to get in and out without detection. Almost.

Routine review of the covert security backup system revealed the theft, and the police were notified. Art dealers and traders received emails alerting them to the robbery. However, certain other parties found out about the theft. Those that dealt in art that was of questionable provenance. These people didn’t ask questions and rarely got their hands dirty. But in this case, the notoriety of the piece would make it extremely hard to sell, and anyone remotely connected to its sale or theft in any way would have catastrophic consequences to the dealer. At the least, they would end up in prison or, at the worst, dead. Risk versus reward mattered. However, the prize was often too great to pass up.

Detective Linda Malone was the star of the art recovery squad and had spent many months undercover in the “gray market” of art. Her knowledge of art and its players had helped her make several high-profile busts in recent years. When she got word of the theft, she put the word out that she had a buyer for it. 

It didn’t take long for the thieves to contact her. 

We met at the station to coordinate my cover story as a buyer and made sure the details would stand up if they checked me out.

All of this had happened quickly with the museum exhibit scheduled to open the next week and the painting its main attraction and draw. If it weren’t there, it would be an embarrassment to the museum. But more importantly, a theft would ruin the museum’s credibility, and the insurance payout would be astronomical. The recovery of the painting quickly was essential. 

It seemed the thieves were in a hurry to get rid of the painting. Once Linda contacted them, she made the deal.

Sunday Morning

The early morning sun was just breaking over the trees when I arrived the next morning—staying in the shadows. I waited. They had picked a good place as there was no cover to provide proper protection. Linda and I would be in the middle of the park in the open.

The phone call an hour ago told me to be at Westberry Park on the south side just beyond the public restrooms and to bring the money in a large leather messenger bag. It was a heavy bag—a million dollars in small bills. 

I was already there when my cell phone rang, having gotten the location from Linda the night before. The calling number was unlisted, and probably from a burner phone. Tracing it was useless. I went through the motions of claiming I had to get the money ready, but I was already near the meeting spot. 

I had cover, but he was too far away to do much good if it went south. I wore two bugs. One they could find and hopefully find, and one they wouldn’t. I also carried two guns, hoping for the same—find one, not the other. I hoped not to have to use them.

A couple came from the far side of the clearing. The woman was pushing a baby carriage, one of the old ones with the big wheels and a full basket for the wee little one to ride in safety. Also perfect for carrying a million-dollar painting and a million dollars in cash.

I recognized Linda. The man with her, I didn’t know. I glanced at my watch just before I stepped into the clearing. They were right on time. Always a good sign. I liked my criminals punctual.

Carrying my bag, I strolled into the clearing. I was wearing one of my best suits, and the Panama hat I wore was of the highest quality. I had to look the part of a wealthy art collector.

“Malone?” I asked as we met.

“Yeah, I’m Malone.”

“You have a painting?”

“You have the cash?”

I held up the bag. “Right here, a million dollars. That painting better be real.”

“Oh, it is, I assure you.”

Glancing around, he flipped the blanket back on the carriage. Lying flat in the bottom of the carriage was the painting. 

“How do I know you are telling me the truth that it’s real?”

“It’s real, all right. I just got it from the museum.”  He reached under the painting and pulled out a duffle bag all folded up. Snapped it open. “Put the money in here.” 

I heaved the messenger bag up on the side of the carriage. Opening it, I pulled stacks of bills from inside and tossed them into the duffle bag.

“Now, the painting.” I reached for it.

“No, not yet.”

“The deal was I give you money. You give me the painting.”

“You’ll get it when I’m sure the money’s not traceable. Malone will call you and tell you where to pick up the painting.”

“Hold it. That’s not our deal. I want the picture now!”

“You’ll get it when I’m ready.”

I pulled my gun. At this range, his head would end up all over the nice green grass. I leveled my pistol at him. “You’re ready now.” 

“I don’t think so. See that man over there?” He pointed off to the side. “If I don’t walk out of here with the money and the picture, he’ll kill her.”

Off to the side was a man holding a gun on a woman. He stood behind her, using her as a shield. One arm pressed across her chest, the other holding a gun barrel against the side of her head. 

“Look, all I want is my painting. I don’t want anyone hurt.”

“Drop the gun, and I walk out, and you’ll get it.”

I had no choice. I had to lower my gun. Linda and the man backed slowly out of the clearing. I glanced back, and the man was gone. The woman sat in a puddle in the middle of the glade between the trees.

“Shit! Shit!!” I said more to myself than the man on the other end of the bug.

Officers who were backing me up swamped the park. Two officers attended to the hostage and called an ambulance. She was all right but shaken up badly. She’d been out for her morning walk when he appeared from nowhere and forced her into the clearing. As quickly as he’d appeared, he disappeared. They found no traces of him. We’d all seen him, but it was too late when we did.

I spent the rest of the morning at the station talking to brass and explaining how we not only didn’t have the picture but a million of the taxpayer’s dollars. I kept wishing my phone would ring with Linda on the other end, telling me where to pick up the picture.

The phone never rang.

Sunday Afternoon

I kept my phone plugged in for fear of the battery going down and my not getting the call. About one p.m., the phone rang. It was Linda. 

“Strong. The picture is in a locker at the bus station.”

She’d used my cover name, and she sounded stressed, too stressed. She was a pro, and she didn’t faze easily. She was in trouble. 

“What’s the locker number?”

“478. North side of the building.”

“Where’s the key?”

“You’ll find it.” She hung up.

I called my boss over. Told him what she’d just told me. He grabbed his phone. “I’ll send someone over to get it.”

“No, I’m going. If they’re watching the locker and don’t see me, who knows what they’ll do.” He agreed. I’d have a tail on me just in case. I wasn’t crazy about the tail, but it made sense and was cover for me.

It didn’t take me long to get over to the bus station, but I didn’t go right in. I stayed in the car for a few minutes watching the interior as best I could through the glass doors. The second gunman had been too far away for me to identify again. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I loosened the gun in the shoulder holster before I got out of the car. Glancing around, I spotted the tail. He was sitting across the parking lot from me. I made no indication that I saw him. I usually button the top button on my suit coat, but now I left it open as it would make it that much easier to get my gun out if needed. Standing just inside the lobby, I looked around. 

Everyone seemed to belong there. There were several people at the counters buying tickets and even more waiting near one of the doors leading to the buses. I was looking for anyone who was trying to look like they were supposed to be here. Working too hard at it, that is. 

There were two alcoves with lockers on either side of the main lobby. I resisted the impulse to hurry to the lockers. I didn’t even have a key for 478. So instead, I sat down on a bench near the north set of lockers. 

Linda had said I’d find the key. But where? The only place to hide a key would be the restrooms. So, I went in. After doing what one does in a public restroom, I stalled at the sink while the other guy that was there left. It took me a few minutes, but I found the key to 478, shoved down behind a toilet. I barely got it without having to get on my knees. The floor there wasn’t something I wanted to see that close.

Outside the men’s room, I took my time and looked around again. No one seemed to be paying attention to me. I noticed the backup sitting on a bench reading a paper not far from the locker. He was too close to suit me. But I couldn’t do anything to attract attention to either of us.

478 was a top row locker. I opened the locker and found a note inside. I pulled my handkerchief from my pocket and pretended to blow my nose in case someone was watching. With the handkerchief in my hand, I carefully picked it up. I resisted the temptation to look at it now. I folded it into the material of the handkerchief and walked out the door.

This was not a good sign. They were playing games with us now. 

Back in the car, I started breathing again. I hadn’t realized how tense I was until I was outside. I remembered feeling like everyone was looking at me. A few seconds later, my backup came out the same door. He didn’t even look at me, going straight to his car.

Back at the office, I opened the handkerchief with my bosses and other top brass watching. The note said, “So Long Sucker.” Finding Jamie Roundhouse’s prints on the note were enough to give us a place to start. We spent the rest of the afternoon tracking him down. He had disappeared from his usual haunts, and no one had seen him in several days.

Sunday Evening

I also set up another meeting in the subway tunnel with Linda. 

Again, the eerie feeling of being watched followed me into the subway tunnel. In the daytime, it looked just as forgotten and forlorn as it had in the early morning hours. As this was a little-used branch of the system, it was relatively safe to meet here.

“What happened this morning?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know anything about the guy with the gun. Never saw him before.”

“Roundhouse. Where is he?”

“He disappeared as soon as we got out of the park. I was afraid he’d shoot me as soon as we got clear. He didn’t.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I know.”

“I’d have shot you. You’re a liability. You know who he is.”

“This is great. We lost a two-million-dollar painting and another million in cash in the space of twelve hours.”

“I know. Here.”

I took the paper.

“It’s a list of the fences I contacted about the painting. Maybe he’ll call one of them.”

I glanced at the list. Recognized a few of the names from the list we’d gotten from the museum. 

Epilogue 

What I neglected to tell Linda or any of the officers involved with the handoff of the money was that it was fake. Counterfeit. Particularly good counterfeit, but counterfeit, nevertheless. Only a couple of the top brass knew about the switch. No one below me knew. As far as they knew, it was real.

So now it was a waiting game. Eventually, it would show up in circulation. Not only was the money counterfeit, but marked counterfeit. It was a waiting game. It would show up somewhere.

A month later, it did.

A convenience store security video showed the man I’d met in the park passing the bogus money, and it didn’t take long to ID him. Within a week, we arrested him and his gun-toting partner on the hill and recovered the painting.

I met Linda in the tunnel one last time.

“Why didn’t you tell me the money was fake and marked?”

“I figured you figured it was marked. As for the fake money, I had to have everyone believe it was real. If they thought it was fake, they’d be less diligent. Besides, fooling everyone was half the fun.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is divider-2.png

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

Paula Shablo: The Last Train

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

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

The Last Train

Paula Shablo

Within minutes, “The Underground” became the whole world.

Rebecca had screamed and sobbed as Megan and Ruben hit buttons and switches that would bring down iron gates and slam airlock doors shut.

All over the city, people trying to flee into the subway stations were thwarted. Those who were already on the platforms were prevented from going to the lower levels, where shops and food courts could be found.

Ruben cursed under his breath.

“What? Megan demanded.

“No time to get the outsiders up to the platform,” Ruben said. “We’re stuck with them, whoever they are.”

Rebecca stared at her screen, which showed the area around the Broadway entrance, the station her husband and kids exited each morning on their way to work and school. The gate had come down, but it hardly mattered; the street was nothing but rubble and bodies, intermingled and bloody. Particulates — either dust or smoke, probably both — hung in the air.

Rebecca leaned forward, staring. Tears coursed down her cheeks; a single tear hung, trembling, from the tip of her nose. She made no move to wipe her face, just stared at the ruination of Broadway, her breath hitching in that after-sobbing hiccough Megan associated with small children.

Ruben, in the meantime, was monitoring the screens that showed the shops a level above them. Customers were still lined up for coffee or bagels, just beginning to show signs of awareness that all was not right over their heads. There weren’t a great many of those whom he’d just labeled “outsiders,” not in their section of the underground. He was thankful it wasn’t a rush period of the day.

Megan lifted the handset of her phone and called Mark, who was supposed to be sleeping before his shift. He answered before the first ring could be completed. “How’d you know?” she asked.

“I was talking to Larry. He’s — uh, he was — heading for the Stuart Avenue station. There were a lot of big… bangs. I lost him, Meg. I don’t think he made it.” Mark’s voice faded a bit at the end.

Megan bit back a sob and took a deep breath. “We’re going to need the whole team,” she told him.

“How bad is it?”

“It’s…” Megan’s eyes shifted from screen to screen: the entrance on the surface above them; entrances to other stations on the East/West line; the capitol building; City Park. “It’s bad.”

“Shit. I’ll round ’em up. On my way.”

There was a clatter on the metal stairs beyond the security room door. Megan turned to look, and saw the daycare workers leading the little ones down, single file. She could see that they were calm and in control. They worked their way down the hall and knocked on doors, delivering the children to their parents before going to their own little apartments.

Tony, the daycare supervisor, stepped into the doorway. “Hey, Meg. Things turned a bit wild up there all of a sudden. Thought it best to bring the kids down now.”

Megan motioned him over. “Did you lock the stairwell door?” she asked.

“Better believe it,” Tony assured her. “We don’t need outsiders down here.”

Ruben grimaced. “Those outsiders have just become insiders,” he declared. “We can’t open the outer doors.”

Rebecca sniffed loudly and pointed at her screen. “They’re going up to the platform,” she said. “Our east side door didn’t close.”

“What the — ?” Ruben snapped. He pulled up video of the east door, hit a couple of buttons and watched as the metal barrier began to slide down. A couple more people managed to get under before it slammed shut.

“Let ’em go,” Tony said. “Look, the train just arrived.” He pointed at Megan’s screen.

Ruben hit another button and the terminal appeared on the main overhead screen. Sure enough, the train was on the platform. People were lined up to get on when the doors opened, and a few could be seen hurrying toward it from the east side.

“Not all of them went up,” Tony remarked, tossing Ruben an accusing glare.

Ruben glared back. He was more concerned that others might try to come down.

“No matter.” Megan, beginning to shake with delayed shock, stared at the train. The doors were still closed. Passengers on both sides of the doors and windows stared at each other. “We can’t let them…”

After a pause that seemed eternal, Ruben said, “We can’t let them what? Get off? Get on? Leave? Stay?” He slapped a palm on his desktop, making them all jump. “Do what, Megan?”

“Shut up, Ruben.” That was Mark.

Oh, thank God! Megan was never more glad to see anyone. He was followed by seven other members of the security team.

Rebecca had gone an even whiter shade of pale than she’d previously gone, and Megan left her seat to go to her.

When Megan placed her hands on Rebecca’s shoulders, the young woman gave her a grateful look. “Why are the doors still closed?” she whispered. Then her eyelids fluttered, her irises slid up in a slow motion eye roll, and she fainted.

Mark and Tony moved her from her chair to the floor and covered her with their jackets. Ruben shook his head and Megan resumed her seat. “She lasted longer than I thought she would,” he sighed. “Her whole family… damn!”

Damien, head of security patrol in this area, was still standing outside the observation office space, near the door. He was talking quietly into a radio. Megan strained her ears, trying to eavesdrop, but could only make out about one word in ten.

She began scrolling through camera feeds along the subway route. Broadway East/West showed several people on the platform, milling about confusedly. There was no train in that station.

The stairwell gates kept anyone else from going down from the street; people on both sides of those gates were working frantically to pull them open. Megan manipulated that camera enough to look past the people at the foot of the stairs; beyond a couple of layers of living people, she could see the dead lying in unnatural poses on the steps.

She switched to Stuart Avenue Station, a North/South line, and the sights were much the same. Ruben followed her lead, and they checked location after location. Mark watched over their shoulders. “Where are all the trains?” he asked.

Damien came inside. “We have a motorman on the platform,” he said. “He wants to know if he can open the doors.”

“No,” Ruben said.

“Yes,” Mark said.

Damien sighed dramatically. “Riiiiight,” he drawled. “Look, guys. I haven’t been able to raise any of the other motormen on the lines. What’s going on?”

“Trying to find that out,” Megan grumbled. “Cameras are active on all routes, but I can’t find a single train…”

“What are you talking about?” Damien cried. “They have to be somewhere.”

Megan swiveled in her seat and glared at him. “You want to search, Damien?”

He raised his hands, chest high and palms out, and waved them in surrender. “No, no,” he said. “I’m going to have to go to the platform and deal with that situation.” He pulled a keyring out of his pocket and started sorting through them. “I don’t think I’ve ever used the emergency stairwell.”

“What are you going to do?” Megan asked.

“Ask a lot of questions.”

Megan raised her eyebrows enquiringly.

“I need to know, first, how many people are on the train already. If there aren’t many, I suppose we could let them get out and stay here…”

“No!” Ruben interrupted. “We don’t have room —”

“Ruben,” Mark said.

“We don’t have the resources to add more people down here!”

“What about the people waiting to board?” Megan asked.

“We don’t have room for them, either!” Ruben was red-faced.

Rebecca stirred, moaned, and sat up. “Jesus,” she sighed shakily. “To quote someone or other, did you get the licence number of that truck?”

“Stay still, Beck,” Megan ordered.

Rebecca started to cry. “Dear God,” she said. “My babies…”

“I’m so sorry, honey,” Megan said.

Mark and Tony sat at the terminals on each side of Megan and began their own searches. They were bypassing the platforms and looking at en-route tracks throughout the metropolitan area. “I don’t see any signs of cave-ins or track damage…” Mark’s fingers flew across the keyboard. “All the lights are on…”

“Where the hell are the trains?” Tony cried.

Megan was still looking at platforms, counting heads — sort of. There were other security stations throughout the area, folks who looked after their own platforms and apartments and sales kiosk floors. They patrolled and checked camera feeds, just like Megan’s people did. But they didn’t have the authority to do a city-wide lock down. Megan and Ruben had made that decision, and now…

Now it was what it was. At least no one else could get down now.

No one could go up, either.

Damien hadn’t moved. The security team milled restlessly, unwilling to interject any opinions or offer suggestions. All of them were intelligent enough to know that one answer was going to come with a hundred questions or concerns.

Megan pulled up camera feeds along the routes at street level. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” she chanted, barely a whisper, but heard by all. The split screenshots all showed different versions of the same chaos: bodies, fires, rubble, crashed vehicles. There was an occasional glimpse of a live person, staggering or crawling. Megan’s tears, unabated, soaked into the collar of her blouse.

Tony, meanwhile, was doing a camera-by-camera search of the tracks. They were clear — and empty of trains. Platform shots showed waiting patrons milling about in increasing levels of stress. Terminal gate shots showed others trying to get in or out; panic levels were rising.

Mark was on the phone. “Look, Alice,” he said, “we’ve got our own situation right here, including a train on the platform with people inside.” He listened. “Yes, we closed all your gates. We closed everyone’s gates. Did you want even more people down there? Alice… Alice! Stop yelling at me, or I’m just going to hang up. I have other people to call… No, we’re not opening the gates. Look at your monitors, Alice. Is anyone topside alive?”

Mark covered the mouthpiece on the phone and sighed loudly.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Megan chanted. It seemed the only thing she was capable of saying as she monitored the streets above.

“What are we going to do?” Tony asked, speaking to no one in particular.

Ruben swiveled away from the monitors and faced the room. “The tracks are clear,” he said. “Load that train up and send it on its way.”

“On its way to where?” Megan demanded. Ruben’s suggestion had managed to pull her away from her chanting.

“Wherever,” Ruben replied. “They can’t stay here. We don’t have room for more people. We already have outsiders in the shops — we’re not going to be able to feed ourselves for long, let alone extra people! Whoever made it to the platform — they have to go!”

Damien stared at him. “You’ve lost your damn mind,” he declared in a flat, implacable voice.

“Have I?” Ruben snapped. “Are you going to invite them to stay in your apartment? Are you going to feed them?” Ruben pointed at the ceiling with both hands. “Everyone up there is dead!” 

Mark spoke into the phone: “Alice, we’re not letting people down here with us… No. We can’t do it. We don’t have room. We don’t have resources…. Well, you and your people will have to decide that yourselves. We can’t get to you, Alice. You can’t get to us…. I — okay, well, let me know. You can — whatever, Alice, just let me know. Goodbye!” He restrained himself from slamming the receiver down, but it was a close thing. He stared at the others. “She thinks they can walk out,” he told them.

“What — on the tracks?” Megan gasped. “They’re still live!”

“There are walkways,” Tony mused.

“Walk out to where?” Damian demanded. “To the same place he —” he pointed at Ruben “— wants to send that train?”

Mark put his face in his hands and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Train goes west,” he muttered. “Goes to the surface for the last two stops, right?”

“Yes,” Rebecca whispered. “Belview, then Park Place, past the freeway.” She rose to her feet and sat in an empty chair.

“Meg, bring up the end of the line.” Mark sat up straight and swiveled around to look at the big overhead screen.

“I already tried,” Megan told him. “The last few cameras are down.”

“What about end of the line to the east?”

“Same.” Megan’s tears kept flowing. “North and south, too. I can’t get a look at any of the surface platforms.”

“But the eastern end is clear out of the city,” Rebecca said. “It could be fine out there!”

“This one came in from the east. What does the motorman say?” He directed this last to Damien.

Damien shrugged. “Zero perspiration the whole trip, he claims. But he did say he never passed the east-bound train that should have been at Fremont Station.”

Mark spun around in this seat a few times, staring at his feet and pondering. Finally, he said, “We have no way of knowing what that means.”

Megan blurted, “It means there are no other trains!”

“We don’t know that, either.”

“Of course we do.” Tony sighed. “The underground cameras are functioning all along the line. We haven’t located a single train.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Rebecca cried. “That’s just not possible!”

“If we send the train out — ” Mark began.

“We can’t!” Megan cried.

“If. If.” Mark glared at her. “If we send it out, we send it back east, where it came from.”

“Because?” Damian prompted.

“It’s like Beck says. The last stop is way outside the city; it’s all fields and farms out there. It could be totally safe.”

“But we have no way of knowing that!” Megan protested.

“They can’t stay here,” Ruben growled.

Rebecca frowned. “Could people really walk out?” she asked.

Tony shrugged. “Any one of us could use the walkways to go station to station,” he said. “It would be a long trip. And,” he added, “it would be platform to platform. All the gates and doors are locked. No food. A couple of water fountains maybe. Not all platforms have them. Here and there a vending machine.”

Megan sighed. “No one at those stations are any more likely than we are to open up and let anyone in.”

“Not if they’re thinking about the ones who live there,” Ruben said.

“Okay, Ruben,” Mark commented crossly. “We get it.”

“Hey, I got a wife and kids to — ”

“Shut up.”

Ruben snapped his mouth shut and glared at everyone.

Mark stood up. “Okay, people. This sucks. It’s not going to be pretty, I’d say. But…let’s head up there.”

As they filed out, he continued. “No one gets off the train. All those on the platform have to board. We send them back to the east and pray they’ll get off in a safe place. It’s all we can do.”

Rebecca stood up abruptly and ran after them. “I’m getting on the train!” she cried.

“Becky, no!” Megan jumped to her feet.

“I’ve got nothing left here,” Rebecca told her, walking sideways to keep up with Mark and look her last at Megan. “I’ll take my chances.”

“Probably for the best,” Ruben remarked.

Megan whirled to face him. “Will you, for hell’s sake, just shut up?”

Ruben shook his head sadly as the security team, Rebecca included, turned a corner and disappeared on their way to the emergency stairwell. “Megan,” he said. “I’m right about this.”

Megan scrubbed at her face, finally aware of the tears that had soaked through the top of her blouse. “I know,” she said. “Shut up, anyway.”

Ruben shut up.

They stared at the monitors. Megan brought the platform up on the big screen. Security appeared.

Over the next few minutes they watched as security argued with people on the platform. People inside the train were moved away from the doors and into seats. One at a time, loading doors slid open and passengers were ushered inside. When the platform was empty, Mark, Tony and Damien motioned the others to step back.

For several more minutes, Damien could be seen talking into his radio.

Megan sighed and brushed away more tears. She could only imagine what sort of conversation was going on between their head of security and the motorman who was expected to drive the train away into the unknown.

She felt sick with guilt. But she knew she could have done nothing else besides close the doors. Ruben was right, damn him. There was no room. There were no resources; they were going to be in a world of trouble themselves before the next week passed. If they couldn’t return to the surface soon, they were as dead as the people above them.

Briefly, she considered running out of the room, up the emergency stairwell and onto the platform, where she could board the train herself. But even as the thought crossed her mind, she saw Mark turn and face the camera lens. She read the tension in his face; he wasn’t going anywhere.

The train started to move, heading back the way it had come.

Ruben pulled up cameras of the track. Clear.

As the train moved away, the cameras picked it up, on and on down the line, and then… it was gone!

“What the hell?” Ruben and Megan both leapt to their feet.

“Are the cameras out? What happened?”

Ruben bent and flipped switches, pushed buttons. There was the track. Empty. Clear.

They stared at each other, aghast.

They could hear the footfalls of the remaining “Underground” people, and the few outsiders who hadn’t gone to the platform. Soon everyone was standing with them, watching as shot after shot of track showed them… nothing.

The last train was just… gone.

“Jesus Christ, what happened?” Damian cried.

“Rebecca!” Megan screamed. “Rebecca!” Mark threw an arm around her waist to support her, and led her out.

One by one, they left the observation area.

They still had homes. For now.

Please visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.com/

Lisa Criss Griffin: Liberty Or Death

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

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

Liberty Or Death

Lisa Criss Griffin

Drake strained to pull Lena’s bloodied body through the hidden, narrow opening at the base of the forested hillside. She had lost consciousness from her injuries earlier, but Drake refused to leave her behind. Dumb luck revealed this potential shelter when he staggered and fell under her added weight. He summoned what remained of his strength and hauled her as far back into the concealed opening as he could manage before collapsing beside her.

Lena released a breathless whimper as her head rolled to one side on the smooth rock of the cave floor. He had several wounds himself, but Lena had flung herself between Drake and the New World Order Military minions hunting them, in order to protect him. Drake’s labored breathing eased, his aching body grateful for the cool rock underneath him. As his breathing slowed, he allowed himself a quick moment of reflection on their circumstance.

The globalist invasion of their country had been partly successful. The cities succumbed first. They were ripe for the coup since law enforcement had been abolished by strategically placed traitors within the corrupt government. The body count from the ensuing lawless rioting was unbelievable. Even the complicit media eventually refused to enter what was left of the burned out skyscrapers and surrounding rubble. Gangs roamed the streets, murdering anyone they could find. The culpable global elitists fled months ago, followed by regular citizens who were fortunate enough to find a way out early. Others had been herded off to FEMA camps for food and shelter. Unfortunately, some of the camps were now controlled by the New World Order. There were rumors of involuntary vaccinations, outright genetic manipulation experimentation and unspeakable abuse of those trapped inside the camps.

The rural communities were still free, mostly because they were heavily armed and had formed citizen militias. The true American administration communicated regularly to Americans over various types of media, although the old fashioned radio seemed to be the most reliable. The fight was not over, not by a long shot. The globalists had not counted on the patriotism and love for America instilled in the many veterans and American military who occupied rural America. They also failed to consider the independent nature of the great majority of Americans who loved their freedom, and who were having none of the globalist agenda. In a desperate attempt to complete their coup, the New World Order Military was becoming known for their random killing sprees in middle America. Drake and Lena were merely parties to their latest attempt to eradicate resistance to the coup.

Drake rolled onto his stomach and crawled farther back into the cave. It was black as midnight in the rocky chamber now. He felt his way forward as he inched towards the sound of dripping water. His right hand brushed the cold, damp surface of a stone wall. He raised himself onto his knees, and then stood up, surprised at the headspace. Drake glanced back at Lena. He could barely make out her still figure crumpled by the entrance. He leaned back against the smooth rock wall, losing his balance when the wall unexpectedly gave way! He fell backwards onto the floor of a large, subtly lit cavern.

Blinking in surprise, Drake struggled to his feet, mystified by his new surroundings. The high walls gleamed in a pale golden light. A subway rail ran along the base of the far side of the tunnel. Strange hieroglyphs dotted the metallic walls, lending a surreal atmosphere to the subterranean passage. Drake returned to Lena, carefully picked her up, and carried her into the golden tunnel. He winced at the stabbing pain in his shoulder from the extra weight as he stepped down the short drop from the cave wall entrance to the tunnel floor.

He was weighing his options when the sound of something coming down the track caught his attention. Drake searched desperately for a nook or small cranny they could hide in. The dark hole in the wall leading back into the cave behind them was glaringly obvious. Drake shifted Lena gently in his arms before he made a shuffling run for a cubby close to the subway platform. He slid into the shadow of the cubby before a small open vehicle passed them and stopped nearby.

“Come on out!” A deep voice boomed authoritatively. “We know you are here! Bring the girl with you.”

Drake swore under his breath. He stepped out into the golden light, Lena draped limply in his arms. He couldn’t see anyone else in the tunnel.

“Get in the railcar and tap the blue square on the keypad when you are seated.”

He climbed onto the vinyl seat of the car, settling Lena in beside him. She moaned in misery as he gripped her shoulder to steady her. Drake reluctantly tapped the light blue square glowing on the keypad. A clear, protective bubble instantly formed around the railcar.

“Relax, and breathe deeply. You both should feel better soon. Whatever you do, stay within the protective barrier surrounding the railcar. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand.”

A minty lavender scent subtly tickled Drake’s nostrils. He fought breathing the gas as long as he could, finally submitting to his body’s demand for air. The fragrant gas immediately soothed the stabbing pain in his shoulder. In fact, he began to feel much better within a few minutes. Lena’s eyes fluttered open and the color in her face began to return. She shifted slightly, drawing his attention.

“Where are we, Drake?”

“Somewhere underground, among friends…I think.”

“I feel so much better. I thought I was dying.”

“So did I.”

A metallic whirring sound filled the subterranean chamber. A large, dark, sparkling cloud composed of minute metallic objects raced past the railcar, enveloping the protective bubble as it flew up the shaft leading from the platform, presumably into the outside world. The clicking cloud was so massive it blocked the light in the tunnel completely for several minutes.

“What in the world???”

“Stay still and relax. We are safe as long as we stay inside this bubble.”

“What are all those…tiny, shiny things, Drake? They are beautiful, but I get the feeling they could be deadly.”

“My guess is they are some form of combat nanotechnology.”

“Do you think this minty lavender gas is using a healing form of nanotechnology? I feel like myself again. In fact, I almost feel…great.”

“Yeah, so do I, Lena. I hope it lasts when we leave the bubble.”

“It will!” the disembodied voice boomed once again. “You both are completely healed and should live to see our country returned to the American citizens. You will understand if we insist that you not divulge the nanotechnology or the location of this bunker to anyone else. The tide is turning in our favor, and with the new nanotechnology we have developed, America should be returned to her citizens shortly.”

“Who ARE you people?”

“True American patriots, like yourselves. It is time for you to return to the outside world. Please open the bottles of water located in the case under your seat. Drink them, then press the green button on the keypad. The railcar will take you to an appropriate exit. Someone will help you out.”

Lena removed two cold bottles of water from under the seat. The cool liquid was delightfully refreshing. They drank it quickly. Drake tapped the green button on the keypad. The protective bubble retracted and the railcar began to move forward on the track. The cool subterranean air felt marvelous as the car accelerated. Lena yawned as she snuggled under Drake’s protective shoulder. Drake’s eyelids felt heavy as the railcar clacked rhythmically down the rail.

“I feel kind of drowsy, Drake.”

“Me too…and slightly drugged…maybe?”

~o0o~

Dawn was breaking over the tops of the trees as Drake and Lena began to stir. Birds were singing joyfully as the warm sunlight kissed the newly awakened forest. Lena wiped the dew from her curly blonde mane as she sat up, still slightly disoriented. Drake watched her fluff her hair while his haze of confusion cleared. He slowly sat up and touched her arm gently.

“What are we doing here, Drake? Where are we?”

“I’m not sure. I feel like I have forgotten something extremely important, and our being here would make sense if I could just remember….”

“Oh yes! There is something niggling in the back of my mind also, but I can’t seem to recall what it is. What do you think we should do?”

“I think we need to go find some breakfast, and go home.”

“Do you think it would be safe to go home? I do remember being chased…kind of.”

“Yeah, me too. But somehow, I feel way down deep in my gut that things have turned around. I really believe we will take our country back soon, Lena, I really do! We need to find a radio!”

Lena smiled into Drake’s excited brown eyes, believing his emphatic statement with every fiber of her being. All over the country, their fellow American patriots were going to prevail and return freedom to the land. It truly had become a matter of liberty or death.

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Copyright © 2020 Lisa Criss Griffin

All rights reservedPlease visit Lisa on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorlisacrissgriffin/

Caroline Giammanco: At Day’s End

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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At Day’s End

Caroline Giammanco

Daylight peeked through the looming storm clouds as Anderson Whitley finished his last shift as a train conductor. Thirty-three years had flown by. It hardly seemed possible that in a flash, a brief moment in the scheme of things, he had married, raised a family, and had a career that was mainly a good one. Not everyone could say that, and Anderson took pride in knowing he’d completed a job well done. 

Thoughts drifted back through the years. The scene played out before him as he remembered the nervous sweat trickling down the back of his neck as he interviewed with the railroad for his first job. Old man Zeb Haskins had arranged the interview for him. He had always taken a liking to young Anderson. Partly out of respect for Anderson’s father, Isaiah, who died in the war, and partly because Zeb raised five lovely daughters, but no sons, Anderson held a special place in the life of Zeb Haskins.

“Andy, I see my job at the railroad as a heritage. My father worked for them, and now I’m nearing retirement age. I have no son to pass my heirloom on to, but I have you. I’d be honored if you’d consider it.”

Anderson smiled a reminiscent smile. Zeb never did call him by his full name. To him, he was always Andy. 

“Zeb, I’m more than happy to interview for the job, but there must be two hundred people vying for that spot. You know times are tough. Don’t be too disappointed in me if I don’t get it.”

The old man blinked a few times and shifted his weight from side to side as he stared off into the distance before fixing his gaze back on the young man. “Andy, don’t you worry about that. You could never disappoint me. Just promise me you’ll do your best. And I mean do your best as an employee because I firmly believe the job is yours for the taking.”

That nervous kid in the sweat-drenched shirt sitting in front of Wilford Corning, the head of the railroad division in that region, wasn’t convinced he had earned the spot on the crew. His voice shook. He nearly stumbled over the basic questions asked of him. Two days later, he received the call, however. 

Of course, Zeb was the first person he told. “I can’t believe it. I got the job!”

Zeb seemed almost too confident when he replied, “I knew you would.”

Anderson had no doubt in that moment that Zeb had pulled strings and the job was his before the old man even asked him to apply. He didn’t care, however. It made Zeb happy, and it was a professional windfall a boy from a dirt poor family only dreamed of having. A career with the railroad would open many doors for Anderson. 

Within six months of starting his job, Anderson saved enough money for a down payment on a place he’d eyed for quite some time. The house had potential, and the land provided one of the prettiest views in the county. He dreamed of one day sitting on that front porch swing, holding the hand of a beautiful girl, and watching the sun go down. 

Anderson smiled. He always smiled when he thought of his Maryann. They had those sunset evenings, and after a whirlwind courtship, he brought her home as his wife. 

Oh, how she loved to cook. One of the first renovations Anderson made to the house was a custom kitchen for his aspiring gourmet chef. Maryann flipped through catalogs and scoured the aisles of home improvement stores until she found exactly what she wanted. His hefty paycheck with the railroad allowed Anderson the ability to pamper her. Any chance he had to dote on her, he did. 

On this last trip as a conductor, Anderson wondered what the future held for his darling wife and him. His family as a whole, really. 

Yes, his family. He had so many warm memories of the kids. His job kept him away from home more than he would have liked, but Anderson made every moment with his family count. He was driven to make sure they had wonderful experiences and a solid foundation to build their lives upon. The loss of his own father when he was a toddler compelled Anderson to be the best father he possibly could be. All six of his children assured him he had succeeded, and now he had grandchildren to help raise. Because of his position, and with tonight being his last trip down the tracks, Anderson hoped for many more days with his growing family. 

“Hey, Mr. Whitley. Excuse me, sir, but how much longer before we get there?” A young employee interrupted his thoughts. 

“Gates, you know as well as I do that it’s another thirty minutes before we reach the station.”

“I know. I guess I’m just nervous.”

“Yes, I understand. It’s alright. This is a big night.”

“Thank you. Sorry for bothering you, sir.”

“It’s okay, Gates. Now go back to your position.”

Tonight was an unusual night, that was for sure. The sun had all but been lost in the gathering storm clouds. Lightning flashed ahead of the train, and the rays through the clouds cast an odd yellow hue to everything around the train as it barreled to its final destination. 

This was not an ordinary trip, not simply because of his upcoming retirement. Anderson tried to soak in every sight along the way. He wanted these images burned into his memory forever. 

He recalled the first time he’d heard the news. It wasn’t broadcast on the television or radio. No, he learned of it when he’d been called into a corporate meeting in Chicago. Over the years, his personable disposition and flawless work ethic earned him friends in high places in the company. It paid off for Anderson. His connections led to him having the privilege of this night. They allowed him to have hope for tomorrow as well. Not everyone—in fact, not most—were as lucky. 

Guilt swept over the conductor. He tried not to think of what tomorrow would bring for those less fortunate than his family. It wasn’t their fault to be on the losing end of this hand, nor was it Anderson’s fault for being dealt a better one. It was fate and luck. Nothing more. 

Anderson shook his head in silence. He wasn’t sure how lucky any of them were. Not anymore. 

Deep in thought, he’d lost track of time. He was surprised to see the lights of the entrance to the station tucked into the side of the mountain. The Rockies had always been one of his most scenic routes. He’d taken Maryann and the kids on vacations there many times. His family, and soon the other passengers on this last train, would see the mountains from a different perspective: from the inside. 

Anderson had already been given a tour of the facility, or at least part of it. The gargantuan structure buried deep inside the range was too large for one man to walk in the course of a day. Then again, there were portions of the facility that regular citizens, like himself, would never have access to. Those were reserved for government employees and the military. 

As they approached the entrance, a sophisticated gate slid open, allowing the train to be swallowed by the mountain. The tracks were empty, and the station was desolate, as Anderson guided the last train into the station. Everyone else sheltered a few stories below, awaiting what tomorrow would bring. 

As the gate slid closed behind the train, the last vestiges of daylight fell behind the clouds as rain pelted the ground outside. 

Anderson watched as the passengers disembarked, waiting eagerly for Maryann, his children, and his grandchildren to join him. He was thankful they were with him for his final day as a conductor. 

The train, nicknamed “The Ark” by many, carried the last of mankind to be saved from the cataclysmic asteroid impact that would happen at 5:17 the next morning. 

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Please visit Caroline on her blog: https://carolinegiammancowrites.home.blog/

Anita Wu: A Story About Elanor: “Money”

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

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

A Story About Elanor: “Money”

Anita Wu

Elanor had always found the silence on the train eerie. The way no one spoke to each other, their heads glued to their phones, its blue light illuminating their faces. It was easy for them to ignore her small requests — that was why she never asked for help on the train.

The streets were easier. Sometimes bustling and sometimes calm, people tended to ignore her pleas less. No one stayed to watch whether someone handed her money or food. Any good gesture was not subject to everyone’s corner-eye stares. No one would whisper that Mr. Walter gave money to the poor girl on the street.

It was hard to get enough for food for the day. She tried to get work — she always did. But people tended not to want to associate with the little girl in a big, torn shirt that was once white. Sometimes, though, she would get lucky. Someone would hire her to do one thing.

They were never a pretty thing. But they paid, and she needed that so that she could feed her family.

Elanor hugged the package tightly in her arms. It was a box secured in plastic wrap, tied again with rope. Whatever the man wanted her to deliver, it was important, and — she didn’t need to know what it was. His exact words.

The train rumbled as it stopped at the station. The doors slid open with a ding, and the robotic feminine voice announced their arrival. She got off and looked around. The ceiling curved with the tunnel, rather than lay flat like a room in a house. Metal plates looked like they had not been cleaned in months. Maybe she could ask to clean them for some coins. The yellow light from the ceiling flickered, reminding her that she had a package to deliver.

She had never been so far away from her home before, but the delivery must be made. The man instructed her to go by train. He even gave her coins for the ride when she told him that she couldn’t afford to get on the train.

An old woman sat on a bench, waiting for the next train to arrive. Two men stood on the platform, their head and faces covered, staring at her. Elanor clenched the package tighter and looked away. Maybe they were staring at her because of her ragged hair. She tucked some stray strands behind her ear and flattened the top. She got those looks often. People would watch her: judge her unclean face, her rough hands, and her dirty clothes. But they would not give her a dime.

Elanor looked down and started walking to one end of the tunnel. There would be an exit there, and she could make her way to the drop-off point.

But a hand grabbed her face from behind, covering her mouth. Fingers dug into her face as though they were trying to crush her jaw. The next hand seized the package in her arms, but Elanor held on. She couldn’t let go. The man was willing to pay her enough money for a week’s worth of food for her mom and younger brother. She needed this package.

Elanor hugged the package tight, not letting go, curling her body around it as a form of protective layer, the plastic and rope around the package digging into her arms. But the man pulled her face back, applying more pressure. She felt the pain shoot through her jaw as her head got pushed against the man’s stomach. The package was slipping from her arms.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Elanor heard the shout behind her. It must be the woman she saw. “Let her go!”

Elanor heard only two steps before she heard the crash. Metal clinked against the floor, something rolling across the platform and falling onto the tracks, then shouts, screams from someone smarter than her. “Help! Help! Someone, help!”

The sound echoed off the tunnel, repeating itself infinitely. But as quickly as they started, the voice got muffled, and the echoes died down.

The man gripping her jaw finally pulled the package out from her arms. He threw her against the metal tunnel wall. The shock ran through her entire body and she dropped on the floor, but she pushed herself up. “No, no, please,” she muttered as she stood, the man just watching her in delight as though he could leave whenever he wanted without any trouble.

“Please, I need to deliver that. My family needs the money,” she pleaded as she ran to the man and grabbed the rope tying the package. She pulled the package towards her, looking at the man whose eyes were the only thing visible on his face, eyes that looked amused. The package did not budge. He slapped her face with the back of his free hand, so strong that her face involuntarily twisted and her cheek stung.

But she didn’t let go. “Please,” she begged again.

“If you say so,” the man replied, kneeing her in the stomach. The force forced her to bend over, coughing as the bile in her stomach threatened to rise. Her grip on the rope loosened, and the man hit her again. This time she fell on the ground and curled up, her stomach in coils. The man ran this time, laughing.

Someone — the other man with his face covered by a grey scarf — ran by her but stopped and stared. “Help,” Elanor managed to cough out. This man kneeled down and grabbed her hand, putting something in it.

“Stay strong,” a sweet feminine voice said — a woman, not a man. She stood up and ran, following the man that beat Elanor.

Elanor curled on the ground, squeezing her side until the pain in her stomach subsided and the stinging on her cheek numbed. She opened her other hand to see what the woman had put there. Crumpled, faded green bills stared at her. It seemed like a bitter lie.

Another woman came to her side again, but this time it was the person who interrupted when the man first grabbed her from behind. Elanor quickly fisted her hand, hiding the money.

“Are you alright?” Her voice was gentle as she helped Elanor sit up. Elanor noticed that the woman tried not to touch her as much as possible, likely because she didn’t want to soil her hands.

Elanor nodded curtly and kept her eyes down. What was she going to do now? She had lost the package and could not get it back. The thieves would have been long gone, and she had no way of tracking them down.

She couldn’t go back to the man and tell him that either. He would have her killed. He had promised as much — if she failed to deliver the package, she had better not even think about showing her face in his territory again. She could attempt to lay low for a while, begging for work and money as little as possible. She could portion whatever coins and food she had. Perhaps he would not be able to find her. He didn’t know where she lived.

“Oh my, your cheek is swelling. You should go see a doctor.” The woman brought Elanor back from her spiraling thoughts, pointing, keeping her hands to herself. Elanor nodded again, stood up, and limped to the stairs, one arm across her stomach. The woman didn’t follow.

Doctor? She couldn’t afford one. She would survive without.

Elanor made her way around the station to find the other platform to take the train home. Lay low. Avoid. The lights flickered as she walked, reminding her that everything else was just as broken.

Elanor stood at the edge of the market, in front of an alleyway. The market bustled. Vendors sat along the street, the food they’ve grown or bought displayed in baskets, their voices floated through the air advertising their sale of the day. People passed by, inspecting goods and avoiding her gaze as though she were invisible. She looked at each of them, though.

She held her cardboard sign, soaked over and over again by the rain, the ink leaking and spotty. They knew what it said without looking at it. Her cup sat in front of her, some spare quarters keeping it from being blown by the dusty wind.

Her cheek still throbbed from the night before, but she had to get some money now that the job did not work out. The money she got from that woman would not last forever. Some people glanced at her, eyeing the swelling, but no one approached.

She heard a crash and some shouts to the left, well in the centre of the marketplace. Some people started running away, pushing others and inadvertently spilling baskets of goods. An apple was kicked towards Elanor. She immediately stooped down and snatched it.

“She’s usually over there!” She made out words from the chaos. Elanor looked in the direction of the commotion and saw a masked man holding a bony vendor by his collar. The vendor was pointing in her direction.

“With her sign, by the apple guy!” the vendor shouted again. Someone finally made full eye contact with her today, but it was not someone Elanor would have wanted. A second masked man nudged the first and pointed at her.

Elanor’s eyes widened as she realized their target. She heard her heart pound in her ears, and she clenched her apple. But why were the thieves coming for her? They took the package, yet they wanted something else.

She grabbed another apple that had rolled to her, gathered her cup, and dashed into the empty alleyway. She cursed herself for standing by a long alleyway that only had one exit. She knew the streets better; she could get away.

But she was small, and the men were bigger, faster. She soon heard a crash behind her, and she didn’t have to turn to know that the two men had easily caught up.

Something clacked behind her, and she felt a sting on her ankle, but she kept going. She looked ahead, towards the street that would open up once she reached the end. But her head jerked back as someone gripped and pulled her hair. The sudden force caused Elanor to drop her apples and cup. She watched the food roll away.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the man asked as he pulled her up by her hair. This was the same man from yesterday. “Boss said you had to pay for not delivering the package. Boss paid me quite handsomely too.”

Elanor kicked and punched, but the man felt nothing. His eyes glinted.

“The fu—” a voice from behind the man was cut short, and she heard the heavy thump of someone collapsing.

Her captor turned his head to check. Elanor felt the spray of warm liquid on her face before she was suddenly released and fell to the ground.

“Betraying us, are you,” Elanor heard the man ask. She watched as another masked man kicked her captor with such force that he crashed against the wall. She heard the grunt, but she didn’t want to look, didn’t want to know where the blood came from. The new man quickly moved to pick her up.

“Come, pick up the apples,” she heard that feminine voice again. Elanor didn’t know what was going on, but she listened. “Hurry, lead me to your family. We have to get out of here. The boss set you up — the package, the robbery. Just a game to him.”

Elanor gathered the apples, her cup and coins. She let the woman nudge her away as she heard painful groans behind her.

“Who… are you?” Elanor croaked out. “Why are you helping me?”

The woman pulled down her scarf, showing a young, kind face. Her lips formed a smile, but her eyes looked sad. “I’m Fyra. Let’s just say I see myself in you, and I don’t want you to turn out like I did. I’ll explain more once we’re safe.”

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Chester Harper: Betrayal

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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Betrayal 

Chester Harper

Jack ran through the tunnel as fast as his injury allowed. The shotgun blast would have killed a smaller man. Still, Jack was bleeding profusely as he ran constantly trying to contact Columbine or Mother. He would be within range for them much sooner than any other member of their society. Jack stumbled as spots appeared before his eyes. One last attempt was successful. “Columbine, Mother—help.” 

“Hold on, Jack; we are on our way,” was the last thing Jack remembered as his nine-foot frame slammed into the wall of the tunnel and he crumpled to the floor. 

*** 

Adam paced in the waiting room. Jack had been in surgery a long time. What could be taking so long? The best team from the society’s medical contingent worked on him. He turned as Willow and Columbine, his wife and daughter, walked into the room. Both had bandages on their arms. 

“He’s going to be OK,” Willow said with a huge sigh. “He lost a lot of blood. Columbine and I both donated to provide enough blood for a man of his size.”

“I can donate.” Adam started rolling up his sleeve. 

“Stop. Adam, you know you’re not the correct type.” 

“I just want to do something.” Adam looked at his feet. He had encouraged his son to take the assignment where he was injured. 

“We will need you to assist in the investigation as to why he was shot and by whom.” Willow looked at her husband. “Nobody should have been there. Boggy Creek Settlement was abandoned over twenty years ago.” 

*** 

Jack repeated his story, once again, for his father. Adam’s background in archeology and anthropology gave him excellent investigative skills. 

“Dad, I have told you everything I remember. I saw lights in the windows of a few of the houses at Boggy Creek. I went to investigate and saw a family inside. Two females, a dominant male, and…,” Jack frowned, “a recessive male. My shock at seeing him must have made me drop my mind block and one or all of them sensed me. I sensed utter hostility and anger coming from the recessive male. I started running towards the transport station and one of them winged me just as I got to the entrance of the tunnel. I jammed the lift controls and ran. You know the rest.” 

Adam nodded his head and looked at his recovering son, noting how pale the skin was where he had been shaved for surgery. He was still quite anemic and tired easily. “I have three questions.” He counted them off on his fingers as he spoke. “One, why are they there? That settlement was abandoned, under orders of the elders, over twenty years ago; two, what are they doing that they don’t want us to know about? And three, why shoot another member of the society? Violence is not our way.” 

“Well, they seemed quite violent to me. I’m sure our teams will figure it out.” Jack stood, towering over his father. 

Adam hugged his son, burying his face in his son’s fur. “Son, I’m so glad you’re alive. I regret suggesting you for that mission.” He looked up into Jack’s deep brown eyes. “We will find out why they chose to attack you, and we will stop whatever it is they are doing down there.” 

*** 

All the seats at the conference table were taken and several members of the community stood against the walls. The leader of the Missouri Community of the Society, Buck, called the meeting to order. Willow couldn’t help but notice the grey in his facial fur. How long had he been in charge now? At least thirty years. He must be in his seventies or more. He had earned his grey. Buck cleared his throat and the room became silent. “Can we hear from the reconnaissance team now, please?” he asked in his deep baritone voice. 

“Yes sir.” A young, unassuming, shorter dominant male stood to address the group. “For those who don’t know me, I am Bobcat or Bob. I led the group.” 

Bob stepped up to a flip chart and told them that of the twenty abandoned homes, only four were inhabited. Those four homes were the farthest from any other civilization and sat on the edge of the swamp. They all appeared decrepit, at first sight, but upon closer inspection, were in excellent condition. The shoddiness was camouflage. 

“The leader appears to be the old man living in this home.” Bob pointed to a square on the chart. “He lives alone with a large wolf-mix canine. He goes by the name Boudreaux Jones. His son, Jasper, and his wife, Rose, live here. Their son, Junior, and his wife, Lily, live here with a son, Reed. Finally, the family Jack discovered, a recessive male, Panther and his wife, Fern, live here with a recessive son, Lichen, and a daughter, Venus. 

Bobcat paused in his presentation and took a sip of water. Everybody showed him their utmost attention. “It took us a while to determine what their purpose is in staying there… but, we finally did. Rose has unusually powerful telepathic abilities. We had trouble, at times, keeping our mind blocks up when near her. She poses as a psychic medium, and many people from the surrounding area pay her well for her predictions. She is able to probe their minds and takes advantage of what she learns. She tells them what they want to hear, and they make it a self-fulfilling psychic prediction. I am sure she has great influence on her husband and father-in-law, the leader of the group. Panther and Lichen go out at night and purposefully let people see them. This has caused quite a media sensation. They seem to have forgotten the little performance we put on years ago to explain the Boggy Creek Monster and are convinced of its presence, again. The other members of the family make and sell souvenirs to tourists coming to catch a glimpse of the Boggy Creek Monster.” He looked to Buck. “End of report, Sir.” 

“Does anybody from the former Boggy Creek Settlement know the identity of any of these people?” Buck made eye contact with Willow’s aunt, Dr. Willow, now called Auntie Willow by most people to keep from confusing her and her niece. Those wishing to show her the proper respect, called her Dr. Auntie. 

Dr. Auntie stood. “Yes, unfortunately. Their story is quite unique, in that we thought they were dead.” Murmuring started throughout the room. 

“Please explain.” 

“During the shutdown of the Boggy Creek Settlement, it was discovered that Rose was sneaking out to meet a non-society boy, Jasper. Her sister, Lily, and Lily’s boyfriend, Heron, would help cover her escapades. I believe Heron is now known as Panther. Right before the move, they all disappeared. When a search was conducted, we found evidence that led us to believe that they had been swimming in the swamp and were victims of an alligator attack.” Willow looked at the attentive crowd. “That now appears to have been a ruse.” 

Buck nodded. “Let me recap. We have society members that lied to their elders, revealed themselves to non-society persons, and are now using their unique characteristics and abilities to take advantage of weaker-minded people willing to believe them.” 

“That is a good summation of the situation,” Bobcat replied, and Dr. Auntie nodded in agreement. 

“The question now,” Buck looked at his cohorts, “is what is our next move?” 

*** 

Jack exited the lift station into moonless darkness. He was followed by a team hand selected for their exemplary telepathic abilities. They could mind block others with powers weaker or equal to their own. They hoped they would be able to block Rose. Buck did not want a repeat of Jack’s experience with these people. 

The Boggy Creek group had been under surveillance for several months to establish behavioral patterns. It had been determined that Panther and Lichen only went out on nights with ample moonlight for them to be seen, and the entire family gathered on Friday nights to watch movies and get drunk. Drinking was also frowned upon by the Society. 

“Keep total mind silence until we determine which house they are in and can ensure that they are all present,” Jack reiterated to his party. 

They found them all in Panther and Lily’s home, the largest of the settlement. Once they had it surrounded, Jack sent out a telepathic message that any telepath should pick up. “Heron, we are here. Your time here is over.” 

Chaos ensued inside the house as the telepaths responded to the message and told the non-telepaths what was happening. The response from Heron was expected. “I am Panther now. No! You have no authority here.” 

The group had been briefed on what to do if met with such resistance. They immediately took control of the non-telepath minds and effectively froze them in place. This only left five individuals to deal with. 

“Please, don’t hurt me!” A desperate plea from Venus was picked up by Jack. 

“We have no intentions of harming you,” Jack replied. 

“Father is trying to force me to take poison, help me,” Venus sent to Jack. Venus had positioned herself near an open window in her attempt to escape her father. Jack reached in and removed the small-framed girl from danger. She reminded him of his sister, Columbine. Heron/Panther let out a roar of rage as he reached for containers of gasoline he had readied for just such an occasion. He splashed the fuel over the room and himself and then knocked a kerosine lamp into flammable liquid. The room was engulfed in flames to a degree that surprised Jack and his team. 

“Get them out, now!” Jack screamed. They were only able to rescue Reed, the five-year-old boy who was near a window, before an explosion made further rescue impossible. They could all see Heron, or as he preferred, Panther, standing amongst the flames smiling at them as he died. He sent out the message, “Surrender was never an option.” 

Jack heard sirens approaching. “Everybody to the tunnel, quickly.” 

*** 

Boggy Creek Settlement was pronounced permanently closed, and the tunnel transport system was dismantled from Boggy Creek to the next station north. Luckily, Boggy Creek had been the end of that particular line. 

Venus integrated into the Society and was taken in by Willow and Adam. She told them that she had never agreed with the activities of her family. Saddened that they were all dead, she still had nightmares about the night of their deaths. Columbine and her husband took in Reed, and he was doted on as their first child. He had very little recollection of the events leading to his parents’ deaths as he had been mind frozen. 

***

Willow and Adam sat drinking coffee with Auntie. “Auntie, is there any chance that anybody else escaped the relocation from Boggy Creek?” Adam inquired. 

Auntie held her coffee mug, warming her hands from the sudden chill his question had caused to come over her. She looked at them. “Heron had a twin brother, Egret. We have not been able to locate or account for him.” She took a deep breath. “He is a dominant male. He could easily live among non-society people and never be noticed. He was extremely intelligent and excelled in the sciences.” 

“Do you believe he is a potential threat?” Willow questioned. 

“I don’t…” Auntie began and then grabbed her head as if in sudden pain. 

“Auntie! What is wrong?” 

Auntie Willow looked at them wide eyed and extremely pale, “He was also a very strong telepath. I just received a message. I think it could only be him.” 

“What was the message?” Adam asked. 

“It was faint. He is far away, and it took some effort to get through.” She put her face into her hands. “It was only one word: Revenge!” 

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Marian Wood: A Ghost Train to Another World

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 Ghost Train to Another World

Marian Wood

The ghost train

Shivering, I pulled my fur-lined coat tightly around me. The empty platform vibrated as the echoing sound of the train approached. Why do I do this, day after day? I hated the underground. Matt called it the ghost train as it’s empty. Like clockwork at 7 pm every evening, it collected me and took me to the station a few miles down the track. I had no need to be scared, but tonight I was. For the first time since Matt started his stupid joke, hearing the train made me nervous.

Seeing it approaching, I couldn’t see a driver. Why couldn’t I see a driver? What’s happened to him? “Stop it Rach, pull yourself together.” I said it out loud, ordering myself to stop the nonsense. Looking around, the platform was empty and the train had its door open waiting for me to alight. This was the same train that I got every night, why was I worried?

Feeling physically sick now and cursing Matt, I stepped into the inviting carriage. Sitting down on a hard bench with the words Lucy 4 Will engraved into it, I told myself again that it was just an empty train and I would be home soon.

It used to be packed with people, then steadily fewer and fewer caught the 7 pm service. Now it was just me and I didn’t understand why. Where did they all go?

Stopping at the next stop, my heart sank as the door opened and a man with a large hat and long coat stepped on. I heard again, “But Rachel, it’s a ghost train.” Shut up, Matt, I thought.

The stranger

Shuffling a newspaper, the man now sat opposite me, crossed legged, and the train appeared to speed up. This had to be my imagination surely?

It was a few minutes later as we sped through ‘BlackBerry junction,’ my stop, that I now started to cry. This was it, this was the end, why had I not listened to Matt?

“Rachel, don’t be scared.” Looking up, I found the stranger staring at me. His eyes looked kind under the brim of his hat. “It’s okay, this is a new world.”

“A what? How do you know my name?” I stammered. I was feeling disbelief, surely this wasn’t happening. This was not a ghost train.

“I’m Morrigan, this is the train to ‘Grestown’.”

“To where?”

“You have been chosen Rachel.”

“Me? What happened to the other passengers?”

“They are still here, but you can’t see them and they can’t see you.”

This sounded like something straight out of a fantasy novel. This couldn’t be real.

“Why me? What about Matt?”

“Rachel, this will be hard but I’m just going to tell you.”

I could feel my heart pounding. What was I about to learn? What had happened? Why was this happening?

“Two weeks ago, do you remember you and Matt went to Castle Beach?”

Worried now, I said, “Well yes, of course. We got caught in the tide together. It was romantic.”

I thought back to Matt holding me tightly as the waves caught us. We had been alright, and had been relieved to step back on the beach afterwards.

A revelation

“Rachel, here is what really happened. You were caught in the tide and dragged out to sea. You are both in a coma in ‘Bradford Hospital’.”

“I’m dead?” I was shocked.

“In a coma. This is an in-between town now. Everyone is expecting you.”

“Where’s Matt? Has he been chosen too?”

“No Rachel, just you.”

This had to stop, this was crazy. I was not in a hospital in a coma. This Morrigan wasn’t really here talking to me. Soon I would be home with Matt, and all would be okay.

As we reached a station reading ‘Grestown,’ my heart sank again. This couldn’t be true.

“We are here, Rachel, come on, take my hand.”

Grestown

Holding on, I stepped off the ghost train, surprised now to see cobbled streets and masses of people waiting for me. This was unreal, it had been a normal day despite being ignored by people. I guess now I knew why. I just wanted Matt, not some strange new world. Who were all these people? Were we all dead?

A small boy came bouncing up to me.

“Rachel, Rachel, thanks for coming.” Looking down at his happy face, I wondered again, why me?

Morrigan took my hand again. “Come and sit down.”

“Every one hundred years someone special is chosen to come here and be our queen. You will pass away in your own world and exist here forever. This will be your life now and these people will adore you. They know your story; they even saw what happened and have watched you in the hospital. You were chosen to come here. This is not an accident.”

I wasn’t sure what to think.

“Are you all ghosts?”

Morrigan laughed. “Kind of, but we are on a different life plane than the rest of the world.”

“Okay, so in this world plane, where are we?”

“We are in your hometown, Bradford. Right now, in the other plane, people are going about their day-to-day lives. They are not aware of us.”

I thought about this. “Is this why sometimes people report seeing ghosts?”

The planes

“There are points where the two planes meet and there have been incidents of us stepping through. Those on the other plane can’t step through to us but we can go through to them. This is closely monitored though, as scaring people is strictly not allowed. It’s more to help loved ones who are grieving us.”

I thought about this and liked his explanation.

“Morrigan, is Matt dead?”

“We knew that you would ask this. You were chosen to be our queen, but we know how you feel about Matt.”

Hearing a voice behind me, my heart leapt. “Queen Rachel, will you be my bride, together forever after being caught in a tide?”

Matt was all I wanted. This was like a fairy tale. Looking away from Morrigan, I saw him.

“Rach, I was brought here by Ramona over there.” I looked and saw a young woman looking at us. “How did you get here?”

I laughed. “The ghost train and Morrigan.”

“The what train?”

I laughed; of course we had both been in a coma. These last two weeks had been in my head. But somehow, I had been riding the ghost train as usual. Just today, Morrigan had found me and brought me here.

I had heard stories about active brains in comas but maybe this was the time to say goodbye to our old lives. I had Matt right here and these people had chosen me.

A decision

“Matt, do we stay? What do we do?”

“Rach, it’s either back to the usual working stress or we live here forever. From what Ramona says, there’s no pain or illness, we are already dead.”

“Morrigan, where is the Queen?”

He smiled kindly. Queen Ramona, my wife, is here. We have been here one hundred years now, it’s now time for her to step down.”

Matt and I stared at each other. “So, you don’t age?”

“Why would you, you’re dead. You will stay exactly the way you are forever.”

“Matt do we do this?” I thought of our families, would they really miss us? We could visit them at any time.

Matt took my hand. “The way I see it, we stay here forever, stress free and don’t ever age. Or we go back, have stress, and age and die of some horrible disease. Our families are already grieving us. Come on Rach, let’s do this.”

“Okay, Morrigan we are in, just call me Queen Rachel.”

Bradford Hospital

Watching the couple lying in their beds, Mrs. Jenkins cried as the machines started to scream as simultaneously they flatlined. Nurses flooded into the room to rescue them but it was too late. Twenty minutes later, Rachel and Matt were declared dead.

A month later

Declared as a drowning accident, Mrs. Jenkins, Rachel’s mum, was not sure how she would get over losing her daughter. Every so often though, she was sure she could smell her scent. This gave her comfort as if she was watching out for her and she hoped that this was true.

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Lynn Miclea: Portal

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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Portal

Lynn Miclea

Ted entered the long portal station. Using the portal always gave him the heebie-jeebies. Although it looked like a strange train station, he knew what it was for. And he knew that too many things could go wrong. Especially where he was going.

Xardulan — a planet accessible only through a wormhole using this portal. It was all carefully monitored by the government, and he knew it should be safe. But it always unnerved him. And who knew what he would find when he got where he was headed? He knew he was only being sent there because something was wrong.

Working for the government was not easy. He was often kept in the dark, and everything was on a need-to-know basis. Yesterday, his boss had called him into his office and explained the experiments the government had been engaged in. Ted felt his skin crawl as he listened to the agreement they had reached with alien beings on Xardulan.

They had been supplying the aliens with human DNA to help create a new cross-species — a hybrid — that was supposed to have the best traits, abilities, and characteristics of both species. But something went wrong. The aliens had stopped communicating. They no longer responded to requests for information, and Ted was now being sent to check it out and see what was happening.

Nervous and agitated, he checked his watch. He was a few minutes early. The shuttle that ran in the portal would be there any minute.

A high-pitched whirring sound announced the arrival of the shuttle — it was right on time. Ted noticed it was the larger shuttle this time, and he wondered why. He licked his dry lips and prepared to board.

The large shuttle eased to a gentle stop and the doors opened with a whoosh. Glancing around, he confirmed that he was the only one in the station. Hesitating for a moment, he stepped on board and heard the doors close. The shuttle was empty. He checked his watch and went to the controls, entering the proper coordinates and codes. Then he sat in one of the seats.

His stomach churning, he swallowed past the lump in his throat. He hoped this went well. But something told him there was a problem. Worries about what he might find filled Ted’s thoughts as the shuttle took off and picked up speed. Would the aliens or the hybrids be violent? What were they being used for? Were the hybrids now trained war machines? What went wrong? Or maybe they didn’t even survive and they were all dead. He shuddered. Whatever it was, he would deal with it.

After a thirty-minute ride through the wormhole, the shuttle eased into a station at the other end and came to a stop. With a soft whoosh, the doors slid open.

Ted paused and then stepped off the shuttle onto a platform. It was quiet in the portal station on this world. No one seemed to detect him or be aware that he had arrived. Strange and indistinct sounds from the surface reached him. He couldn’t put it off any longer. Shaking his head, he walked forward and saw a moving platform leading to the surface.

Feeling jittery and anxious, he stepped on the platform and it slowly brought him up to ground level. What would he find? Would he be safe?

Once the platform arrived at ground level, he got off and quickly moved to the shade of a nearby building and took in the scene. Relief moved through him as it seemed no one noticed him or knew he was there, and he simply observed for a few minutes.

What appeared to be human beings, wearing white gowns, were working hard doing manual labor. They looked entirely human. Was that possible? They were digging, planting, moving things, and building structures — groups of them working on specific tasks. What were they doing? Were they hybrids and it was just hard to tell from where he was? They sure looked human. Purely human.

A large blue creature with four elongated arms came into view. Tall and strong, towering over the humans, it barked orders in a strange language, yelling at the human workers. The humans cowed in fear and then worked faster, looking scared and unhappy. What was going on here?

He gasped as it suddenly hit him. They were not hybrids — they were human slaves. The aliens did not use the DNA to create a new species — they used it to have an ongoing supply of workers to do manual labor for them.

The pit of his stomach fell, and he stared in horror. He had to save them and get them out of there. No question about it. If they were human, he needed to help them.

The large blue creature finally left, and the humans seemed to relax and work a bit easier. But how could he communicate with them? He didn’t know their language, and they would not know English.

Telepathy — he could communicate telepathically. Hopefully these humans were evolved enough to be able to communicate that way as well.

Ted focused on the closest human, a male that seemed to be in his early 20s. He focused his thoughts. Hello?

The human’s head jerked up. He turned and looked around and then spotted him. His eyes widened, and Ted could feel the man’s fear and confusion.

Ted quickly sent calming thoughts. It’s okay, I won’t hurt you.

The man stared for a few moments and then returned to his work.

Ted tried again. Can I talk to you?

The man glanced around and then slowly came over to Ted. The man’s thoughts echoed in Ted’s head. Who are you? I have not seen you here before.

Ted held up his hands in a peaceful gesture and smiled. “My name is Ted. What is your name?” He hoped spoken speech would be translated telepathically.

“I am S-3562. Where are you from?”

Ted spoke slowly. “I come from another world. A place where you originated. I am the same species as you.”

S-3562 studied him. “Why are you here?”

“How many of you are here? Are you treated well? Are you happy?”

The man stared for a few moments and then shook his head. “There are 200 of us. What is happy? We work for the rulers. They yell at us. They hit us. They demand that we work until we are exhausted and cannot move. We have a little free time in the evenings. That is our life. That is all we know.” He squinted. “Is that what it is also like where you are from?”

Ted ached for these people. “No. We are free. No one rules us or demands that we work. We choose what we want to do.”

S-3562 looked confused. “How is that possible? How do you get food?”

Ted pursed his lips. “Are there women here too?”

“Yes. Females. They are assigned different tasks than we are.” His voice grew softer. “I have heard them crying, but I cannot help them.”

“When do you stop working? Can we meet later and talk?”

The man nodded. “Yes. We stop working when it is dark. Then we eat. Then we are free for two hours. Then we sleep. Then we start again the next day. The same schedule every day.”

A flash of anger raged through Ted. He would not abandon these people. He shook his head. He had to help them. “Are there any more people like you here?”

“They create new people each month in a factory. We are created to serve the rulers. When we are no longer useful, we are discarded and a new person takes our place.”

“Where is this factory where people are created?”

The man pointed in one direction. “A building over there. Not far. People are created and the rulers do scientific experiments on them.”

Ted let out a long breath. “Do you know what you are?”

“We are hu-man. We are here to serve the rulers. We have designated work assignments. My name stipulates my designation and assigned task.”

“Do you get to rest, play, laugh, love, be free, or enjoy yourselves?”

S-3562 looked confused. “I do not understand. Those attributes are for the rulers, not for hu-mans. We are here to serve.”

Ted’s voice grew passionate. “No. You are more than that. Much more.”

“I do not understand.”

Frustration rose in Ted’s gut. “Where and when can we meet in safety?”

S-3562 pointed to a building a short distance away. “There. In three hours.”

“Can you have everyone there? The females too?”

“Yes. We will all be there.”

Ted nodded. “Good. I will speak to all of you.” He bit his lip. “Will it be private? No rulers?”

The man nodded. “Yes. Private. Just hu-mans.” He glanced around. “I must return to my duties or I will be disciplined and possibly injured or terminated.”

***

Ted remained in the shadows, watching and observing. From what he could see and feel from them, they were definitely human and were created to serve as manual labor for the large blue creatures who ruled the planet. Those creatures had clearly lied and deceived Earth. They did not create hybrids — they created slaves, an unlimited supply. And he would make sure it would end today.

For three hours, Ted stayed hidden while watching the workers. He thought about what he would say to these people and how he could save them. Would they be willing to leave this planet? What if the blue creatures discovered him? And what would he report back to his superiors on Earth? What would he tell them? Maybe they already knew. Maybe that’s why they had given him the large shuttle.

Finally, after three long hours, Ted stood before the 200 humans stuck on that planet as laborers, through no fault of their own. “Hi, everyone. My name is Ted. I am from Earth. I am human, just like you. You were created from DNA from people from my home planet.”

He glanced at everyone, and they stared back at him, some looking confused, some worried, and some expressionless. “You are humans, and humans are meant to be so much more than workers. You are meant to feel, play, love, be happy, laugh, rest, be creative, sing, dance, and have fun.” He glanced at the puzzled faces before him and then continued. “Humans are not supposed to be slaves to any other being. You are not meant to serve under another.” He paused and then added, “I can help you.”

Ted spoke to them for an hour, going into detail about how he wanted to help and what he was offering them. Then he answered questions, and the people started growing more animated. They seemed to come to life and get excited. Many were unhappy but didn’t know how to change anything, expressing that this was all they knew, and they had no say in it and no choice. They were not allowed to disobey or step out of line. A few said they dreamed of escape, but it seemed impossible. Emotions came to the surface — confusion, anger, and frustration. By the end of the hour, they were all on board with his plan. They were ready.

“Thirty minutes,” Ted reminded them as he wrapped up the meeting. “Meet me at the agreed-upon spot in thirty minutes. Bring whatever personal items you want to keep. You will not be returning. Everyone understand?”

Heads nodded, and then everyone scrambled out of the building.

***

Thirty minutes later, Ted led 200 humans down the moving platform to the subterranean portal station. The shuttle was waiting. It was large, but he worried that everyone might not fit. And would the extra weight be a problem? He had never transported 200 people before. Were his superiors expecting this?

The humans gasped and pointed. Their excitement was palpable.

“Okay, everyone, if you want to come with me back to Earth, please board the shuttle quickly, and we will be on our way. If you would prefer to stay here, you may do so. I am not forcing you. You are free to decide what you want.”

Murmuring among themselves, they all quickly boarded the shuttle, squeezing in to fit. Ted glanced around the station. Not one person remained behind. He smiled to himself and then jumped as a loud explosion on the surface reached him, rumbling through the ground, with dust raining through the opening. What was that?

Shrieks erupted on the surface. Another explosion, followed by unintelligible speech.

Ted quickly jumped into the shuttle, closed the doors, and worked the controls, setting the destination and entering the codes. Three blue creatures came into view, racing down the moving platform as the shuttle whirred and the lights flickered. The creatures held strange weapons as they rushed toward the shuttle.

Come on, come on, he thought. Let’s go, let’s go.

A loud shriek sounded outside the shuttle and something banged on the shuttle door. Would the creatures damage it? Could they get away in time without a problem?

A vibration moved through the shuttle. The large vehicle started moving and rapidly picked up speed. Colorful streaks filled the viewscreen. They were on their way.

Ted let out a huge sigh of relief and looked back at the human refugees on board. Some looked worried, but most were smiling. A sense of nervous joy and anticipation permeated the air.

He looked at the nearest person. “What was that explosion on the surface? Do you know what that was?”

The man smiled, his face lighting up with glee. “We destroyed the factory where they created us. They will not be able to create any more hu-mans or experiment on us. And all the hu-man DNA was destroyed as well.”

Ted clapped his hands and laughed. “Really? You did that?”

“Yes.” The man nodded. “Three of us have wanted to do that for a while, so we were prepared. We knew what to do, and this was our chance.” He smiled, a look of pride on his face. “Now we are finally free.”

“Yes, you are.” Ted turned back to the controls and sent a quick message to his immediate superior, explaining that he was bringing back refugees.

Twenty minutes later, the shuttle eased into the station and came to a halt. Ted turned to the control panel and re-set the coordinates and codes so that no unauthorized beings could follow him there and access the portal in the Earth station.

Then he turned to the group and raised his hands for attention. “Welcome home, my fellow humans. You are now truly free. I will bring you to my superiors and you will be welcomed and honored.”

The doors to the shuttle whooshed open and Ted led the humans into the terminal to take their first steps on their true home world.

As Ted led the humans away from the shuttle and toward the government building entrance, his superior sent a return message to Ted at the shuttle, but Ted was no longer there to receive it.

DO NOT — repeat — DO NOT bring the refugees from Xardulan to our building. They must first be decontaminated against any possible alien disease. Also, a WARNING — we have reason to believe that one of them has brought a weapon with him that could decimate all life on this planet. Repeat — STAY WHERE YOU ARE. Please confirm.

Ted smiled at the refugees as he led them into the government building below ground level. “Follow me, please,” he said, approaching a bank of elevators. As he punched in his code and called the elevators to the subterranean level, he did not see one of the refugees at the back of the group reach into his bag and pull out a small device.

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Copyright © 2020 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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

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Enzo Stephens: Half an Hour Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

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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Half an Hour Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Enzo Stephens

“Hey Scott, how’s it hangin’?”

“Yo Mike. Swing low, sweet chariot.”

“Jim and Jack said they’d meet us at the entrance to the station.”

Mike cast a sour glance toward iron-gray skies. “Yeah, let’s boogie before it starts snowing again.”

“Today promises to be a slop-fest; sleet, freezing rain, snow, ice. The whole nine yards.” Scott huddled further into his massive, puffy coat and shivered. “Well, at least the new weather girl on 11 is hot.”

Mike raised an eyebrow toward Scott. “What does Elena think about that?”

Traffic was steady but thick on General Robinson Way across all three lanes, and the two men kept away from the street-side edge of the sidewalk to avoid the slush kicked up by passing vehicles. Scott and Mike came to a halt at an intersection to await the crossing signal. “Honestly, I don’t think she noticed. But she knows I’m all look-but-don’t-touch anyway.”

“Yeah, seems like Jim’s wife, Julie, doesn’t have the same kind of restriction.”

They stepped off the curb just as a fat, cold raindrop slapped Scott’s forehead. “What do you mean?”

“Jim found out last weekend that she’s banging someone from her office.”

“Aw hell…”

Mike didn’t have much to add to that; both felt the same, though it was more a concern for their friend than anything else. The pair pushed on, nearing the entrance to the subway station, oblivious to the bustle of people departing hotel parking lots across the thoroughfare. Eight-thirty am on a weekday was usually bustling on the North Shore, but for Men of Leisure such as Mike and Scott and Jim and the fourth member of their little troop, Jackson, the ado was merely something to watch with mild amusement.

This being a Tuesday, the four men had a standing appointment to meet in the city for a mug of heaven from Rockin’ Joe’s in the form of Pumpkin Spiced Cold Brew. Since all four men lived on the North Shore, it meant a quick eight-minute hop under the Allegheny River via Pittsburgh’s under-river transit, affectionately known by all residents, though few actually understood the reason for the tag, as the T.

Scott and Mike came to a halt beneath an aluminum canopy at the entrance to the subway station and waited. Scott pulled out a cigarette and cupped his lighter against the crappy, windy conditions. He inhaled deeply and blew out a plume of smoke; jammed his other hand in the front pocket of his stupidly-priced jeans and turned to Mike. “So how do you think he’s dealing with that shit? Is he gonna leave her?”

“For fucks sake man, when are you gonna stop that shit? You’re like the only person in the entire city that still smokes.”

“The Man ain’t gonna take my rights away.”

“You got no rights when you’re dead.”

“Eat it, mullet-boy. Back to Jim…”

“Yeah, whatever. Just stay downwind, will ya?” Mike scowled at Scott in disgust. “That shit stinks.”

Twin streamers of smoke wriggled from Scott’s nostrils as he spoke. “You got all holier-than-thou since you quit smoking.”

Mike snorted. A very tall young woman in a scandalously short skirt wobbled by on absurd heels, catching the eye of both men. “Just call me Saint Mike.”

Scott chuckled. “Yeah. By the way, that… thing, is a dude.”

“Get outta here.”

“I shit you not. Adam’s-apple city. Didja think it had a nice butt?”

Both men laughed. Then Mike pulled his mobile phone from his pocket; glanced, swiped, twiddled. “Yeah, that was Jim. Said he’ll be here in a minute.”

“What about Jack?”

“In the car with Jim.” Mike shuffled his stance a bit as Scott took another pull on his smoke. “I guess I’m a little concerned about Jim. He’s not handling this crap with Julie well.”

“Lazy fuckers gotta drive the mile to get here?” Scott dropped the cigarette butt to the sidewalk and ground it out with his heel. “Well, unless they’ve got themselves an ‘open’ relationship, I can’t say as I blame him. I’d be pretty wrecked if Carly strayed.”

Mike glanced up, pocketing his phone. “Speaking of which…”

Jim and Jack crossed the busy, three-lane one-way street; Jack in a trot, Jim moving at some sort of morose amble. Eventually the four men came together and shook hands all around. Jack, the most gregarious of the four referred to the three other men as ‘douche-puppets,’ which made not the least bit of sense whatsoever.

Scott pulled Jim into an embrace that Jim did not return. “How you doin’ man?”

Jim pushed Scott away. “What the hell, dude?”

“Mike just gave me the news. Sorry man.”

Jack grabbed Scott’s earlobe. “You got no tact dude. Can’t you see he ain’t on top of the world like you? Plus, you smell like an ashtray.”

“C’mon guys, let’s get this show on the road.” Mike strode to the glass doors and opened one for his friends to enter. Jim trailed the bunch, and as he stepped through, Mike came up beside him as Jack and Scott hit the 97 steps down to the first level of the subway station. “You got a plan?”

Jim turned to face Mike and there was fire in his eyes. “Yeah, I’m gonna find the punk who thought it would be okay to screw a married woman!”

“And do what?”

“Rip his dick off and stuff it down his throat.”

“Damn, dude. That’s pretty graphic. Listen, you know I speak to you straight—”

“—I know. It’s why I like talking to you. No bullshit.”

“So, what if it was Julie that started this? What if it’s Julie that kept it going, for how long?”

“Several months. She wasn’t specific.”

“So what if it was all on her?”

“He could have stopped it.”

“Jim…”

“Well, he could have!” There was a note of pleading in his voice that Mike wanted to shut down right away.

“Look. Julie is a damned fine-looking woman. No kids. Smart, professional, and let’s face it, she’s got a body that won’t quit.”

“Yeah.”

Mike tried a different tack. “Have you talked to her?”

“I tried. She shut down right after I asked her. I was suspicious, she just confirmed it. But she says it’s over now.”

“Do you believe her?”

“I dunno Mike. I don’t know what to believe anymore. She stole my trust.”

That hit Mike like a sledgehammer and he had no snappy reply, no spontaneous wisdom. Maybe the best approach would be to just be his friend. Commiserate. Take the fix-it hat off. “Shit. I feel that, Jim. Seems like that’s just something that a man’s gotta work through.”

Jim held silent as the pair hit the bottom of the first flight of steps to meet up with Scott and Jack, who were engaged in a debate about which goalie was the better goalie for the local hockey team. “What do you think, Mike? Murray or Jarry?”

Relieved at the lighter discussion, Mike laughed. “Jack, you know Jim’s the hockey-guy here. Jim?”

“It’s situational. Murray’s got a glove-side hole that he’s not really worked to improve as far as I can see. But he’s a big-game goalie and positions very well. 

“Jarry, on the other hand, just has a natural flow and feel that sometimes seems precognitive. Two things against him: no playoff experience, and he can be jittery at times in big games.”

The four men moved to the stairs leading down to the train-level, Scott leading the way, his red hair looking bright orange under the arc-sodium lights. “That’s a damned good assessment right there.”

“I used to be a pro goalie coach.”

Jack laughed. “That explains your vast financial wealth.” Mike and Jack chuckled at that one as the men moved down the second flight of stairs.

A few dozen people hung out on the platform, waiting for the next train. Stops happened every ten minutes during rush hour to and from downtown. But rush hour ended at 8:30, and two trains were taken out of the rotation, doubling the wait to twenty minutes. 

The four men gathered on the inbound side and Scott pulled a crinkly pack of smokes from his pocket. Jim scowled at him, shaking his head. Jack belched, drawing stares, then saw Scott’s pack of smokes in his fist. “You’re gonna light up?”

Scott looked around with a comical sheepish grin. “Well, maybe not.”

A small cluster of people were gathered around one of the benches at the far end of the platform. Jack gestured toward the group. “What’s going on there?”

“What, do I look like? Google?”

“Cripes Mike, why do you think everyone’s questions are for you? You ain’t the answer-man.” 

Jack clapped Scott on the shoulder. “Good one.” Jim began moving away from the four toward the group gathered around the bench. “Jim?”

“Hey Jim, what are you doing man?” Scott stepped toward his friend; Mike snared Scott by the arm.

“Let him go. Let’s see what he does.”

Jim could see the back of a man seated on the aluminum bench as his words drifted across Jim’s awareness. Fifteen or so people, varying ages, genders and races, stood before the guy, listening as he spoke.

“Look, each and every one of us is struggling with this life. All of you have your own battles…”

Hi Jim.

Jim stopped, glanced around in surprise. “Wha—”

I feel you behind me Jim, and I know you’re suffering.

“What the hell is this?”

No Jim, not Hell, not chicanery, not witchcraft; none of that. You need to HEAR me, so strap on your ears and pay heed.

“Uh… okay?”

Jim, Julie needs you.

“What? How the he—?”

You have to ask yourself why she went to another man in the first place, brother. And then you have to get to work on correcting that. But the first thing you gotta do…

“Oh man…” He sagged to his knees, tears squirting from his burning eyes.

You have to forgive her, Jim. You have to do it now. Put wings on your feet and go to her, right now, Jim. No coffee, no friends. Your wife. Now. Because you never know what the next minute will bring you. If you’ve never believed anything in your life, Jim, now would be the very best time to start believing.

Jim bowed his head, shoulders shaking, tears flew, mingling with his suddenly running nose to plop in a growing puddle before his knees. “I can’t…”

You must. Go. Now. And the seated man suddenly did a 180 and faced Jim, deep brown eyes boring holes into him, touching his very soul.

Mike, Jack and Scott stood thirty feet away from their friend; watched Jim fall to his knees, head bowed, shoulders heaving. Scott took a step toward him. “C’mon, he needs our help.”

Mike grabbed Scott’s arm. “Hang on.”

“Yeah, let this play out a bit. Maybe this is what needs to happen.”

Scott shook free of Mike’s grip. “When did you become Yoda, Jack?”

“Shut it, doofus!”

The three men watched Jim climb to his feet. He turned away from the seated man and his captive audience and strode toward his three mates, then right past them, making the escalator, then taking it two steps at a time as if the hounds of hell were on his heels.

The remaining three men glanced at each other in surprise. Scott pushed his crinkling pack of smokes back in his pocket. “Well, that was interesting.”

“Guess it’s just the three of us for Rockin’ Joe’s.”

But Mike was concerned; worried. What would set Jim off like that?

Jack pulled his phone from his pocket. “Ah shit, it’s Brenda calling. I told her not to bug me at this time. This is ‘Dude Time’!” He stabbed his thumb on the screen then held it to his ear. “Yeah, Brenda?”

Subway train number six blasted to a screeching, grumbling stop at the platform; Scott and Mike moved before a pair of doors with Jack immediately behind, barking at his wife.

The doors whooshed open and a few passengers departed, leaving an empty car. Mike put his arm over Scott’s shoulder and the pair moved to enter the car, Jack hot on their heels. Those doors can be fast and a little unforgiving.

And indeed they were on this morning just past the rush hour as three Men of Leisure stepped on the chariot that would whisk them to their date with nirvana in the form of a cold brew.

Scott and Mike stepped across the threshold; the opposing doors slammed shut with bone-crushing force, crushing the two men into each other; Mike partially turned so that his chest was obliterated by Scott’s suddenly-pulverized shoulder, which was joined in a way that was never meant for the human body to be configured by Scott’s other shoulder, which was not of sufficient resistance to halt the insistent force of the doors.

They squeezed toward closure. Bones splintered, arteries ruptured. Scott’s head was slammed into the side of Mike’s face as the doors pushed inexorably together. 

The train began moving, dragging Jack, whose arm was caught in the grisly tangle as Mike’s right eye bulged from its socket, spinning wildly then fixing on the struggling Jack, who was pulling frantically to free his arm as the train picked up speed and then Jack was in a trot and then a full-on run trying to save his arm when he slammed face-first into a truncheon that obliterated the rest of Mike’s face as the train whipped past, leaving a mist of blood in its passing.

A sandaled foot bounced on the track behind as Jack lay on the cold concrete, darkness encroaching quickly as people rushed to him and screams punctuated his fading consciousness.

<ooo>

Surgeons cannot save Jack’s arm, and he lives in a constant fog having suffered severe head trauma. The prognosis for him to ever return to self-care is not positive. 

Mike and Scott are a memory. Those who witnessed the horror of their destruction are forever traumatized.

News sources report a computer-system malfunction as the root cause for the tragedy. A new Artificial Intelligence program was live-tested on that day, post-rush hour to minimize potential risk.

Tell that to Mike, Scott and Jack. Tell that to their wives.

Systems Engineers swore again and again that the AI system was extensively tested before implementation. But the oversight lay in the Infeststation-Cleansing subsystem, which was “inadvertently triggered.”

Those engineers are now jobless and facing potential criminal negligence legal action.

The Transit system’s legal teams are contending with three multi-million-dollar civil lawsuits and they are not doing well.

The man known by many as the ‘Subway Missionary’ has not been seen on the subway again, though some claim to know that he has been sighted as far away as La Paz, Bolivia.

The object of Julie’s tryst is now serving in the Doctors Without Borders organization, providing free medical care to widows and orphans somewhere in Guatemala.

Jim and Julie are expecting their first child. They know that the child will be a boy, and after a lot of back-and-forth discussion, they’ve agreed to name him Jackson Michael Scott.

“May your sins be forgiven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” — Martin Engler, Mono, Inc

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