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Lisa Criss Griffin: Screaming Haint Woods 

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

Screaming Haint Woods 

Lisa Criss Griffin

Perry sighed, kicking pebbles on the shallow shoreline down the slope from their campsite in frustration. One skittered noisily across the other rocks and plopped into the rushing water. It rolled away into oblivion, just like some of their supplies had done earlier. Nobody expected the fresh mammoth rockslide that had partially diverted the river current into a smaller, rarely explored branch. Although the smaller creek also fed into the same lake eventually, it was rustic, uncharted territory…with a legend. A legend told around campfires by the locals.

Goosebumps rose on his arms as the evening breeze picked up. It carried a damp chill, and some noises he wasn’t sure he could identify. Perry gathered some wood for a campfire, since he and Libbie certainly weren’t going any farther today on the whitewater rapids roaring between the limestone cliffs of the flooded creek branch. They had been fortunate to wash up on the pebbled beach, their canoe questionably intact. 

Libbie sat on a log rubbing her swollen ankle, hoping the bruising would not be too bad. An involuntary shudder shook her lithe frame as she recalled hitting the edge of the unexpected landslide, the awful sound of the bottom of the canoe grating as it spun around, almost dumping her in the roiling rapids. She had panicked and used a large rock to thrust herself back into the swirling canoe, barely conscious of the quick pain in her ankle at the time. In doing so, Libbie almost capsized the canoe, much to the dismay of her boat mate Perry. A stream of provisions spilled into the roaring river, never to be seen again. 

The next scraping sound she heard was the canoe grinding up onto the pebbled beach. Libbie raised her head up and peered over the side of the canoe, relieved Perry found a place to stop. He helped her out of the canoe, up the slope and onto the log. The pain in her left ankle intensified as she attempted to put weight on it. She could walk, but barely. The prospect of being stuck out in the wilds with a significant injury caused her head to swim. Her throat tightened ominously. No. No! She was not going to give in to the anxiety surging through her body. She filled her lungs and released the air slowly through her pursed, trembling lips to combat the panic attack before it got out of hand. 

The sound of a lighter flicking caught Libbie’s attention. She watched as the fire grew in size and intensity, the heat from the flames warming her damp clothes. A calm began to tamp down the anxiety plaguing her. They had survived. 

She looked at Perry, who was busy moving what was left of their gear from the canoe to higher ground. A lump formed in her throat as she watched him. They had only been dating a few months, and she liked him way more than she wanted to admit. She supposed this misadventure would reveal their true colors to each other. A sheen of tears lingered in her eyes as she watched him struggle to move the canoe higher up the slope.

“I’m so sorry, Perry.”

“What? For what?”

“Well…I didn’t mean to almost capsize the canoe and hurt my ankle. I’m really sorry.”

Perry turned the canoe over by the edge of the natural clearing, then eased down on the same log next to her. His hand caressed the side of her face tenderly as their gazes met.

“Libbie…I am just thankful it wasn’t any worse. You have nothing to be sorry about. You could have been killed. Both of us could have easily perished. We were very lucky to have landed here when we did, and with some provisions.”

Perry gently wiped a stray tear rolling down Libbie’s cheek with his thumb.

“I suppose we should toast our survival and eat something before the sun goes down. Everything will be okay. You’ll see.”

“I wish I could be more helpful….”

“The very fact you are here, with me, is helpful, Libbie. Take a good, long swig of this before we look at your ankle. Nope, no arguing. It is for medicinal purposes, my dear. You will thank me shortly.”

Libbie made a face as the liquor burned its way down her throat and into her belly. By the third swig, a tingling warmth began to spread through her body. 

“Ah yes. Let’s take one more big swig for good measure, Lib.”

He helped her tip the bottle until she pushed it away, gagging and sucking in air. He took a smaller swig and replaced the lid. Libbie’s face was flushed, her eyes watering. She was a mess, and she knew it. She squinted at Perry, then surprised them both with a massive burp. The couple burst into laughter, desperately glad for some comic relief. Perry leaned in towards her, a glint in his eye.

“I have to take off your shoes and socks now, madam.”

“Erm…okay…I think.”

“And possibly your pants.”

Libbie’s eyes widened in faux horror, playing along. Perry was so much fun to be around. She loved his sense of humor.

“Oh no, sir…surely not…my pants!”

“Muhahahaha! We shall see, my little chickadee, we shall see.”

Perry inspected, then wrapped her bruised, swollen ankle and placed her damp shoes and socks near the fire to dry. They feasted on peanut butter and crackers, grateful they had a meal to enjoy. Around sunset, Perry located a dry sleeping bag in their supplies, and insisted they both allow their damp clothes to dry before putting them back on.

The two survivors slid into the protective warmth of the sleeping bag and watched the fiery orange, pink and purple clouds of sunset morph into an expansive array of sparkling diamonds set in the depths of the midnight blue sky.

“Perry?”

“Hmmmm?”

“Do you remember that legend about these woods we all used to listen to around the campfire?”

“Maybe….”

“Tell me. Tell me the story right here in the safety of our firelight.”

“Lib, don’t you think we have had enough excitement for one day?”

“Please?”

“Girl….”

“Puh…leeze?”

Perry sighed and squeezed her soft shoulder gently with his hand.

“Okay, but don’t get scared.”

“Mmmm…kay.”

Perry clumsily tossed a couple more pieces of firewood close to their sleeping bag onto the campfire. A spray of fiery red sparks rocketed towards the starry sky. A cool breeze ruffled Perry’s hair as he wiggled back down in the sleeping bag, pulling Libbie into his protective embrace. He placed a loving kiss on Libbie’s forehead before he began telling the legend.

“Once upon a time….”

Libbie giggled and slid an arm across his chest as she snuggled in for the story.

“A group of teens decided to hike along the edge of a small creek that transversed the infamous Screaming Haint Woods to the trailhead at Lost Lake. They followed a well used deer trail when the banks of the creek became steep and impassable. They made good progress, and eventually stopped to make camp as the sun dropped close to the horizon.

“It was a moonless night, with flashes of lightning off to the northwest. The campfire was their main source of light. Thunder rumbled ominously as the group quickly ate their evening meal. They hurried to construct pine branch shelters to protect them from the rain of the impending storm. The teens huddled under the protection of their shelters as the sky turned an ominous orange color before the light faded away. The campfire hissed, billowing smoke as it sputtered and died from the rain. Lightning lit the camp sporadically. 

“Around midnight, the ground shook as thunder boomed overhead. Lightning hit somewhere close by, illuminating the misshapened figure of a large creature by the edge of the camp. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on the creature, who seemed to be lit from within by an unusual glow. Arms raised, it released an eerie sound that the teens later described as a grating, electronic, inhuman scream. The Thing circled the campsite, the electrified screaming intensifying as the forest floor sizzled underneath it. Patterns of electrical charges crawled across the ground as the creature travailed. It seemed to be searching for something, without success. 

“‘Where are you?!’ the Thing finally hissed. ‘Come to me, and we will ride the night skies, forever free!’

“The creature, electrical charges undulating through its terrifying form, stood before one of the pine bough shelters and sniffed. The Thing moved before each shelter, still sniffing. It seemed uninterested until it stood before the last shelter. The pine boughs caught on fire as the creature swiped the shelter’s roof into the woods. It leaned down, intense eyes of fire burning from what seemed to be a head, maybe. The Thing screamed at the exposed boys. It grabbed Kagan Creech, whose father worked at a government facility on the far side of Lost Lake, tossing him in the air. Kagan screamed as he caught on fire, then convulsed as the Thing caught him. The creature watched as the boy’s body instantly incinerated and fell on the dirt as a pile of glowing ashes.

“The Thing looked at the rest of the campers. It screamed, the rage in the sound evident as it retrieved the ashes.

“‘One to go, maybe more you know,’ The Thing whispered loudly. ‘Until this wrong is right, I fight!’

“Thunder clapped again, rumbling through the forest. In a blinding flash, the Thing was gone, leaving an acrid smell hovering in the smoke-filled air. Kagan was gone too. No trace of him was ever found.

“So beware, all of you who dare to enter the Screaming Haint Woods. Beware the storms. The same could await you, unless the wrong has been righted. And the next one could be…YOU!!!”

A small snore wandered past Perry’s ear. He rolled his eyes in frustration. He thought he had done an exceptionally fine job recalling the legend of Screaming Haint Woods. Perry sighed and closed his eyes, quickly succumbing to the cocoon of warmth in the sleeping bag.

It was three in the morning. Thunder rolled in the distance. Lightning sizzled and crawled across the approaching thunderheads. The wind began to pick up, a strange, acrid scent permeating the air. Libbie turned over, surprised to find Perry gone. She got up and slipped into her warm, dry clothes.

“Perry?”

No answer. 

“Perry!”

No answer.

“Perry! This isn’t funny! Where are you?”

“Libbie. Get the sleeping bag and come over here…get under the canoe. Now!”

“What is going on? Why is the fire out?”

Libbie slid under the canoe, dragging the sleeping bag while favoring her ankle. Perry followed her, wedging her in.

“Ugh…all our stuff is in here too. What is going on? Why have you essentially packed up our campsite? This whole place smells like our natural bug repellent…lemon grass, citronella, peppermint and stuff. I don’t understand….”

Thunder rumbled loudly overhead, ending Libbie’s tirade. Perry shushed her. There was no need. Something was moving around in their former campsite. Lightning flashed. A strange crackling sound came from the camp. Perry snugged Libbie more closely, half afraid he had called up…the Thing. Light flashed across the canoe. Something screamed in the night as the rain started. Whatever it was, sounded angry. More crackling sounds followed the screaming, along with flashes of light.

A jolt of shock shot through Perry’s body as he was sure he heard his name being called, barely audible over the incessant crackling noise and the pounding of the rain on the top of the overturned canoe. He lowered his head in disbelief. He was toast. Maybe Libbie was too. Unless the creature was unaware of her presence. He would protect her and offer himself to the Thing in the hope it would lose interest in her. He had stupidly called it up. She was innocent. He grabbed her, pulling her ear to his trembling lips. He whispered, trying to sound confident. 

“Libbie. I’m going out there. No matter what you see, hear, and smell, do NOT move from here until daylight. Stay still until daylight. No matter what! Promise me, Libbie. Promise me!”

“Okay, okay. I promise. But you come back. Don’t you leave me out here by myself, Perry!”

“There is a gun in the purple waterproof zip bag. Use it if needed. No matter what happens…Libbie…I think I love you.”

“Oh, Perry. Me too…I think I have loved you for a while. You better come back!”

Perry kissed her soft lips with all the tenderness in his heart. Then he wiggled away and was gone. Gone…into the storm, along with the weird sounds and screaming. Tears slid silently down her dirt-smudged face as she realized there was a chance he might not return. She had never really believed the legend of Screaming Haint Woods. Until now.

The shouting stopped. It was hard to hear anything over the drumming rain on the canoe. The light flashes started again. And now there was an ominous roaring sound overhead. Libbie debated making a run for it, then remembered her bum ankle. She pulled the sleeping bag over her head, her heart pounding. She felt the familiar tightening of her throat. Libbie began her breathing exercises, finding it somewhat comforting.

The canoe groaned and skittered downhill as something removed it. She screamed hysterically as light flashed all over her, blinding her. A firm hand grasped her. It took her a moment to recognize Perry’s voice.

“Libbie. Libbie! It’s me…Perry. Look at me. Here. Look at me!”

Libbie reluctantly looked up, terrified it was a trick of the Thing. She was eighty percent sure she was going to see a pair of flaming eyes ready to incinerate her on the spot.

“Here. Get that light out of her eyes, man. Lib, it is Perry. I am okay. You are safe and you will be okay too.”

“What? I don’t understand. Where is the Thing?”

She heard several men guffaw. She sat up, slightly blind and getting angrier by the moment.

“What’s so funny? Who is here?”

“Libbie. They are part of a rescue team that was called in to find us after the landslide was discovered. We are one of three groups stranded out here.”

The couple soon found themselves safely ensconced in the overhead chopper, along with their rescuers. The team was murmuring quietly among themselves, but the couple could hear them.

“Glad we found those two after the crazy story the first group told us. The creature, the lightning, that poor guy missing from their group….”

“Yeah. You know the legend of Screaming Haint Woods, don’t you?”

The rescuers looked at each other. Everything fit. The legend was well known to the rescuers.

The solemn rescue leader looked at each teammate individually before speaking. 

“We all know what is going on here. The wrong has not yet been made right. It continues to fight. How many more people will the Thing incinerate before this ends?

Perry and Libbie locked gazes. It was real. The legend was real! And they were not the only ones who knew it. The legend of Screaming Haint Woods was fairly old. How long had this been going on? What would make things right again? The couple smiled at each other, knowing they had a future together. And a new quest with a riddle to solve. 

***

The Thing watched the overhead chopper fly away. The forest was quiet and undisturbed once again. It fell to the ground, disintegrating as the electrical charges holding its form together were recalled to a clandestine source in the Screaming Haint Woods.

“Nicely done, Dr. Pellstein.”

“Yes, Comrade. This has been a great place for our covert operations. The Americans will never know what hit them when the Thing is completely under our control and operational…and we can easily duplicate it for use in other areas.”

“Soon, Doctor, very soon.”

Dr. Pellstein pulled a Cuban cigar from his jacket. He clipped the end and lit it. Blue smoke shot into the room from his thin lips, forming a toxic cloud.

“Yes indeed, Comrade. Very soon.”

Copyright © 2022 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved 

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

Cheryl Ann Guido: SUNDAY’S CHILD

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

SUNDAY’S CHILD

Cheryl Ann Guido

It was a small thing really, a tiny pale hand protruding from the waters of the pristine stream. Still, it had caught Janine Corbo’s eye as she biked down the scenic road that followed the river’s path. 

After leaning her bike against the guardrail, she scrambled down the steep incline to investigate. Probably just an old doll someone tossed into the stream, she thought. Still, she felt obliged to be certain. After all, being an aspiring journalist, if there was a story here, she wanted it to be hers. 

When she reached the edge of the creek and peered into the crystal-clear water, Janine saw that this was no doll. The tiny baby appeared to be about a year old. Janine pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911.

In a few minutes, police and emergency vehicles filled the road above. After being fished out of the water, the baby was placed on a small stretcher and looked over by the Medical Examiner who suggested that the baby had probably drowned. 

A forensic team waded through the stream looking for evidence and Janine found herself being grilled by a homicide detective. After the detective finished questioning her, he gave her his business card with instructions to contact him if she had anything else to add and not to leave town. Of course, she would not leave town. Why would he even say that?

Janine hiked back up to her bike. Still a bit shaken by the day’s events, she slowly peddled back home. Upon arrival, she started to heat the kettle for some tea but thought better of it. She needed something stronger, something to calm her nerves. She opened one of the cupboards and pulled out the bottle of Scotch she kept for guests. Not what she would have preferred but it was all she had. She poured a little into a glass and swallowed it in one gulp. The strong amber liquid burned, causing her to gasp and cough. Why do people actually like this stuff, she wondered, as she downed a glass of water to quell the flames in her throat.

Her eyes caught sight of the letter from the editor of the local newspaper that had arrived in the morning mail. She had written in hopes of being hired as a reporter and he had responded asking her for a sample of her writing. She grabbed her cell phone and dialed the editor’s number. 

“Hello? I’d like to speak with Mr. Dalton.”

The secretary on the other end told her that Mr. Dalton was unavailable and asked if she cared to leave a message.

“Yes, I would. Tell him Janine Corbo called and that I have an exclusive for him. I was the one who found the baby’s body this morning.”

Janine heard a slight gasp then the secretary asked her to hold. Several moments later a deep gruff voice came on the line. 

“Hello, Janine? Jake Dalton here. So, you’re the one who found that kid today.”

“Yes sir.”

“And, you want a job. Do you think you can accurately write up what happened this morning without leaving out any details?”

“Oh, yes sir!”

“Alright, you do that and email it to me by three this afternoon. If I like it, you’re hired.”

“It will be in your hands by noon, Mr. Dalton.”

“Well don’t rush it. Remember, you’re a journalist. It needs to flow, be interesting, accurate and without grammatical mistakes.”

“Of course. Thanks, Mr. Dalton.”

Janine disconnected then sat down, opened her laptop and began to write. The words came easily and before she knew it, the piece was finished. She titled it, Monday’s Child. After running it through spell check and rereading it several times to be sure there were no mistakes, she emailed it to Jake Dalton. She sat back in her chair and smiled. With that simple *send* command, she had officially become a journalist.

***

The next morning Janine flipped on her television after she prepared her breakfast. Addicted to watching the news, she settled into a chair and sipped the strong dark coffee that always gave her that little jolt she needed to start the day. On the tube, the detective who had questioned her spoke to reporters as he recounted the events of the previous day. He added that although a positive DNA match had not yet been determined, the baby girl had been visually identified by her parents, Mark and Diana Bolton of Bolton Industries.

Ancestors of the current Bolton family had founded the little town of Scenic Hills over one hundred years before and were considered township royalty. Their mill provided work for many of the town’s citizens and they were well known for their charitable contributions to needy residents. They were well liked and deeply respected. The loss of their child saddened many.

Janine still had not heard from Dalton. She began to worry that her piece had not impressed him when her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Janine, Dalton here. Great job on your article. It will be in today’s afternoon edition.”

“Oh my goodness, thank you, Mr. Dalton.”

“No thanks needed. You’re an excellent writer. Now, I have an assignment for you. Are you up to it?”

“Already? I mean yes, yes of course.”

“The body of another child has been found. I want you to cover the story.”

“Another child? How horrible.”

“Indeed. Go to the old abandoned warehouse on Chestnut Street. You’ll need to leave right now. The police have already been on the scene for at least an hour. Oh, and … welcome to The Scenic Times.”

“Thank you. I’m on it.” Janine hung up and dressed. As she drove to the warehouse, she could not help but wonder about the murders that had so suddenly plagued her little town, a town whose biggest news stories prior to this had been car wrecks and the occasional fire. 

As she pulled up outside of the warehouse, she felt a chill as the memory of her own experience the previous day flooded her mind. Come on Janine, you’re a reporter. You need to toughen up. This is not the first crime scene you’ve witnessed and it probably won’t be the last.

A police officer stopped her. “I’m sorry, Miss, this is a crime scene. You need to leave.”

“I’m Janine Corbo of The Scenic Times, Officer. I was hoping to get some information regarding the murder.”

As she finished speaking, she saw the detective who had questioned her the day before. She waved her hand. “Detective, a word?”

The tall muscular investigator sauntered over. “It’s okay, Officer. I’ll handle this.” He smiled and held out his hand. “Miss Corbo, Detective Anders. What are you doing here?”

Funny, she hadn’t noticed how good looking he was before. They shook hands. “I’m covering the story for The Scenic Times and I was hoping to get a statement.”

“Really. You didn’t mention that you were a reporter when we spoke yesterday.”

“That’s because I wasn’t a reporter yesterday.”

“Hmm. Oh … kay.” His right eyebrow arched as he rubbed his chin.

“I know. It’s weird. They hired me right after I sent them a piece on the Bolton baby. It will be in this afternoon’s edition. Anyway, what happened here?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that we found another child, a boy who appears to be approximately two years old.”

“Were there any marks on the body?”

“None that the ME found at this point.”

“I see. He was probably smothered.”

“And you know that how?” 

Janine’s jaw dropped in embarrassment. “I … don’t actually. Just a guess. I’m a crime buff. I’ve picked up a lot about forensics.”

“I see.” Anders chuckled softly then grew serious. “Actually, the ME did find some fabric fibers in the boy’s mouth. He mentioned that smothering could be the cause of death but he wants to do a complete autopsy before making it official.”

“Do you know the identity of the boy?”

“We have our suspicions.”

“Oh, and who might he be?”

“Sorry, this is an ongoing investigation. I’m not at liberty to say.” There was that gorgeous smile again.

“Is there anything else you can tell me?”

“Only that the ME determined that the boy died early this morning. You’ll have to wait until the press conference to get the rest of the information just like all the other reporters. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back.” He turned and began to walk away.

“When will that be?” Janine yelled at his retreating form.

“Five this evening,” he shouted back as he continued walking.

True to his word, at five sharp Detective Anders stood in front of a sea of microphones and gave a detailed statement about what they had learned so far.

The little boy was the son of Edward Kaddish, the head of the law firm servicing both the business and personal needs of the Boltons. Janine shuddered at what she felt was an obvious connection between the two dead children. The boy had indeed died by being smothered, and the police had been tipped off to the body’s location by an anonymous caller. Detective Anders did not comment or speculate about the possibility that the two murders were related. 

Afterward, Janine rushed home and wrote up her second article. She titled it, Tuesday’s Child, then emailed it to Dalton.

***

At eight o’clock the next morning, Janine again sat in front of her TV eating breakfast. She bit off a piece of toast then almost choked as an announcer broke in with a special report. Yet another body had been found, that of a ten-year-old boy. His little body had been discovered floating in the big fountain at the center of Town Square. Once again, the police had been alerted by an anonymous caller who claimed to be on an early morning run at half past five that morning. 

Janine rushed downtown and arrived just as a news conference began. Detective Anders announced that the boy had positively been identified as the son of Mark Bolton Senior’s secretary. Mark Bolton Sr was the patriarch of the Bolton family and the grandfather of the first child found. He also revealed that the boy had been strangled.

After his statement, reporters began shouting questions at Anders. Janine decided to ask one of her own.

“This child is the third murdered in as many days. Obviously, this is the work of a serial killer. All three children have connections to the Bolton family. Could this be a case of some kind of revenge?”

Anders gulped. In all of his career, he had never had a case like this one. He felt a bit unsettled by the fact that the question came from Janine, the person who found the first body. Was she involved? “Miss Corbo, all I can tell you is that all three children had ties to the Boltons. Anything beyond that would only be speculation.” He held up his hand. “Thank you, everyone. That’s all that I have for now.”

Janine drove home in silence. At first, she had been thrilled to write for the Times. Now, she dreaded penning her latest article, Wednesday’s Child.

***

At five am Thursday morning, Janine awoke to the ringing of her phone. With one eye open and the other struggling, she saw that the caller ID displayed Dalton’s name. She snapped to attention. “Mr. Dalton, good morning.”

“Janine, get down to the Broad Street exit of Route 88 right now. They found another body.” Before she could reply, he disconnected.

Upon arrival at the crime scene, she noted that she was the first reporter to arrive. In fact, emergency vehicles were still arriving. She spotted Anders and waved. 

“I’m sorry, Janine, I don’t have time right now.” He took a step then turned back. “How did you get here so fast, anyway. I wasn’t aware that the press had been notified.”

Janine shrugged. “They must have been. My editor called and woke me up.” 

Anders shook his head. “Well, at this point I have nothing. I’ll have more later at the five pm press conference.”

At the press conference that evening, Anders disclosed that the eighteen-year-old female had been an intern at Bolton Industries. Though it was unknown why she had been walking the highway, she had been the victim of a hit and run. No further details were provided. 

By this time, the residents of Scenic Hills, especially those with direct ties to the Boltons, had become terrified since all of the murders obviously revolved around that prestigious family.

With a heavy heart, Janine wrote Thursday’s Child.

The body of Friday’s Child, the six-year-old son of Mark Bolton’s other son Samuel, had been found in a tree house inside of the Bolton compound. A half-eaten package of chocolate cookies lay beside him. When tested, they were found to contain arsenic.

Saturday’s Child was not a child at all. The body of Mark Bolton Jr, father of the first victim and heir to the Bolton business empire, was found in his car in the company parking lot. He had been shot in the head.

As Janine wrote her series, she realized that the victims of the murders had an eerily bizarre similarity to an old poem she had once read whose lines described a different child on each day of the week. There was something else. In each case but the first, the police had been tipped off by an anonymous caller. Coincidence? Perhaps, but she thought it more likely that the murderer made the calls. 

Assuming she was right about the poem, there would be one more child, Sunday’s Child, a good and happy child. Who would be next? Janine’s eyes lit up as an imaginary light bulb went off inside of her head. She knew who the next victim would be, and after a few minutes of Googling, she also guessed the identity of the killer and why. Thankfully it was still Saturday. She dialed Detective Anders. “I know who’s next on the hit list. Meet me at the Bolton compound.”

“Wait a minute, you need to tell me more than that.”

“No time. Just do it!” She hung up without further explanation.

After arriving at the compound, Janine squeezed through the bars of the wrought iron gates. All of the rooms were dark except for one. She headed for the outside window and slowly raised her head until her eyes were just above the sill. Inside, Mark Bolton Sr stood upon a chair, a noose around his neck, hands tied behind his back with a gag in his mouth. Another man stood beside him, his back to Janine.

“How does it feel, Bolton? How does it feel to lose your children?” The man circled around the chair. Janine saw his face and gasped. He continued his taunting. “My son hanged himself, you know. This,” he gestured toward Bolton, “is exactly how I found him that night. It’s right that you go the same way.” 

Janine saw him raise his foot. He was going to kick the chair out from under Bolton and she had to do something fast. She pulled off her shoe and threw it at the window. The sound of glass shattering caught the killer’s attention. He faced the window. Janine stood there, eyes wide, trying to think what to do next. Where the heck was Anders? She held her head high. “You used me.”

“Yes, I did. I’m sorry, Janine, but now you have to die too.” He began to advance toward her. Someone grabbed Janine’s arm from behind and tossed her aside. A shot rang out. The killer keeled over backwards, dead.

***

At one pm on Sunday, Detective Anders stood behind the microphones. Janine stood at his right with Mark Bolton Sr at his left. Anders announced that the serial killer had been shot and killed while attempting to murder Bolton and another victim. He then introduced Mark Bolton Sr.

“I would like to apologize to all of the residents here in Scenic Hills. God knows, this tragedy has shaken the entire community. But it’s over now and thanks to the bravery of this young lady,” he gestured towards Janine, “the murderous rampage of Jake Dalton is over. 

“I will try my best to explain why this happened. Dalton’s son Aaron had worked at Bolton Industries as a junior executive for almost five years. But the stress became too much for him and as a result, he made mistakes and never advanced. Despondent over his failures, he committed suicide and Dalton blamed me. 

“For years, Dalton accused me of putting too much on the young man, ultimately culminating in his death. He filed a lawsuit against me for wrongful death. He lost. Still craving revenge, he took the lives of children close to my heart, including members of my immediate family. He wanted me to suffer as he did. He wanted me to know and feel his incredible pain. I do. 

“I was to be his last victim. But thankfully, he failed in the end, and although my heart is broken, at least now the killing will end.”

Bolton yielded the microphone to Anders who declared the press conference concluded.

As the little group retreated, Anders gently touched Janine’s hand. Without thinking, she entwined her fingers through his and gazed into his eyes. “I wonder why he used me to report his crimes. They would have made the news without me.”

“Maybe he felt an odd sense of control. He was your editor after all. He could have changed what you wrote if it didn’t suit him.”

“I suppose.”

“Does it really matter?”

Janine cocked her head to one side. “Guess not, Detective.”

“I do have a first name.”

“You mean, it’s not Detective?” Janine winked.

“It’s David, and David would like to know if you would join him for a cup of coffee.”

“I’d love to.”

He dropped her hand and threaded her arm through his. “Then, shall we?”

~~~

SUNDAY’S CHILD

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
And the child born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, good and gay.

~ Author Unknown

{{~..~}}

Please visit Cheryl on her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/cherylannguidoauthor

D. A. Ratliff: How Not to Market a Novel

I appreciate the opportunity to share this article on Elaine Marie Carnegie – Padgett’s website, The Writer’s Journey Blog. I hope that my mistakes in marketing my first book will help others as they publish theirs. Please click on the link below to visit Elaine’s site and enjoy the wonderful contributions from many authors. Thanks!!
The Writer’s Journey Blog

How Not to Market a Novel
Publishing Without a Plan

I have always wanted to write a novel.

So, I wrote a novel, or two or three.

I never published—until now.

The one thing I missed along the way was marketing the book.

As an adult, I began writing my first novel when I convinced myself I had the time. I had stars in my eyes. I would write what I hoped was a good story, find an agent, and sign a book deal with a publishing house.

I was naive.

The realities of publishing and how independent publishing had changed the marketplace surprised me. The difficulty in acquiring an agent, much less a contract with a traditional publisher, drove many authors into the indie market, some successfully and some not. The independent author became writer, publisher, and marketing manager with the click of a mouse and, sometimes, an editor and cover designer too—a lot of responsibility for someone who only wants to write.

Editing and cover design can be contracted depending on the writer’s budget, as can book promotion. The question is, at what cost? With high competition for readers, it is difficult for many writers to recoup their investment and decide when they stop spending money to prepare a book for publication.

In today’s publishing world, the brutal truth is that traditional publishers provide only minimum marketing efforts unless you are a best-selling author. Fortunately, many resources provide information on how to market your book.

So, what do we do?

Although I followed my dream and wrote a few novels, life and other responsibilities always got in the way of taking the time to publish. I had done all the research, written articles about marketing, and had marketing responsibilities in former jobs, but when it came to my first novel, I did little. The intent was there, but the execution was lacking.

Faced with that fact, I decided to publish anyway. I haven’t embarked on a marketing campaign, but frankly, I am at a point where I want to publish. I am running out of excuses.

I am fortunate to have some graphics experience and have made book covers for anthology collections.

I am also lucky to have friends who are editors. My need to pay for these services is minimal, which leaves me some financial leeway to pay for advertising.

However, with this first novel, I will forgo paid advertising and promote only on the platforms where I have a presence. I was working diligently to improve my following on my blog and was quite satisfied with the numbers. Then my blog crashed, and due to an oversight on my part, I could not retrieve my account. (a word to the wise, update your phone number when it changes). In an instant, I lost all the hard work I had done and a considerable number of followers.

The thing is, how much do followers matter? In many instances, fellow authors follow their peers for mutual support. Not all will be fans of our novels’ genres and may not be potential readers. While our fellow authors give support, it might not always be by purchasing our books.

I could enter into a discussion of the many avenues available for marketing—newsletters, email campaigns, advertising on Facebook, Amazon, free giveaways of eBooks, the list is endless. However, that would be pointless since I am not doing any of the above for this first novel. While the efforts are essential, to what extent do they work?

One author I know, who writes in a niche market, began her marketing efforts a year before publishing her first book. Another author markets through newsletters and advertising, and both are successful. Yet, many marketing stories are unsuccessful despite engaging in the exact activities.

Building an email list can be daunting. While there are many ways to acquire email addresses, it is often a slow and tedious process, and statistics show that the return on any marketing effort is in the twenty percent range. The email list needs to be extensive to be effective, and that takes time and effort to build and money if choosing to purchase an email list.

Contacting influencers and potential reviewers feels a bit like selling your soul. While reviews are akin to gold for an author, seeking them always feels like pandering. Advertising can be effective, but to be so must be planned for the long-term, which can become expensive and often ineffective.

So, what works?

I wish I knew, and I imagine I am not alone in the struggle.

My tardiness in publishing is my fault. Being responsible for a large writing group and providing content to keep members interested and informed as well as the group publishing several member anthologies certainly stood in my way—but only because I let it. Life issues often interfere as well, but the fact is, I could have taken the time to publish, and I did not.

I had envisioned a roll-out with a book launch, press releases, advertising, and book signings. Despite marketing experience during my professional career, I did not anticipate the time and expense involved in marketing a book. Careful planning is possible, but it isn’t easy to manufacture time. At least, we tell ourselves that, but like money, we can budget time.

Regardless, I am about to publish my first novel and have done nothing. That’s a bit of a misnomer. I have done a few things. I have been promoting the upcoming release on my blog, author page, and Instagram, but my efforts are minimal.

What I do know is that I must start somewhere. So, I chose to publish now and not wait any longer. And with that begins my marketing plan for the next book.

I watched one of my favorite online writing coaches recently as she discussed writing a series or stand-alone novels. One thing she said that stuck out to me is that a published body of work was often an excellent marketing tool. If you have several books available for a reader to read, chances are if they like one of your books, they will read the others. Sounds like a good marketing plan to me!

In a few weeks, I will self-publish, and that novel will be part of my marketing strategy for the next book. D. A. Ratliff, author of “‘insert title,” has a ring of credibility and might help market my second book. In addition, I might start a tad earlier on that promotion effort.

I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to success. While I am proud of the finished product, I am under no illusion that any novel or any author will become successful. I choose to take satisfaction in the process and hope someone will enjoy reading it.

The moral of this story is do not do what I have done and neglect the things you can do to improve your success. While we have no guarantees, planning for success is much better than having no plan.

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

Lynn Miclea: First Date

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

First Date

Lynn Miclea

Allison drove down the two-lane parkway, glancing at the rushing river flowing by the side of the road. Excited and nervous, she licked her dry lips. She hated first dates. They were always so filled with promise and possibilities, but they almost always were horribly disappointing. She hoped this one would work out.

After meeting Ron online in a book group, they had exchanged numerous private messages, emails, and then phone calls. As their conversations progressed, she felt more comfortable with him, but something still bothered her, and she wasn’t sure what. He didn’t live that far away, and he suggested they meet since they had so much in common. A bit reluctant, and her stomach churning, she agreed.

Now jittery with second thoughts, Allison realized her throat was too dry and she decided to stop at a small store for a bottle of water. There were not many cars on the road, and glancing in her rear-view mirror, she saw only one vehicle behind her, a dark SUV a good ways back.

Two miles down the road, a gas station with a small convenience store appeared on the right. That looked perfect. She pulled in and parked on the side. After buying a bottle of chilled water, she gulped down half the bottle, wiped her mouth with her hand, and got back in her car. Feeling better, she started to pull out of the parking lot.

She noticed a dark SUV parked towards the back of the parking area as she pulled out onto the parkway. Something was tickling at the edges of her mind. What was it? Then it hit her. The dark SUV. Was that the same one that had been behind her on the road? Possible, but maybe not. But even if it was, it didn’t mean much. Whoever it was must have also needed to stop there. She was just nervous and reading into things.

Putting it out of her mind, she let the sound of the rushing water from the nearby river refresh her as she drove, and thought about her upcoming date. Ron had seemed very nice on the phone, but she was not sure she trusted anyone she met online. Especially when her gut was churning when she thought about it. But she didn’t know what was wrong, and she dismissed it as simply nerves. He seemed like a nice person and he liked the same murder mystery books that she did. That had to be a good sign. At least she hoped so.

Ten minutes later, she pulled off the parkway and drove a half mile down the road. Glancing in her rear-view mirror, she saw a dark SUV behind her. The hairs on her arm stood up. Was that the same one? Was he following her? And if so, who was he?

The coffee shop where she was meeting Ron was two blocks away. On impulse, she made a quick right turn. No one was behind her — good. She made another right and then two more, making a complete circle back onto the same street. Confident that she had lost the SUV, she pulled into the parking lot at the coffee shop and parked the car.

As she checked her watch, she saw she was five minutes early. She walked to the front and reached for the large glass door at the entrance to the coffee shop. She hoped this date would go well. For some reason, she was not looking forward to it, and she just wanted to get it over with.

Wondering if Ron was here yet, she glanced at the parking lot before she went in. As she looked around, she saw a dark SUV pull in. The hair rose on the back of her neck. Was that the same one? She peered into the cab through the window and briefly saw a young man with dark hair and scruff on his jawline. The man looked at her, his eyes boring into her, and then he quickly looked away and pulled around the corner and went out of sight. Who was he? Was she imagining things?

Her mouth dry again, she backed away from the entry door and wondered if she should call Ron and cancel the date. Something wasn’t right.

As she thought about her options, a man with short, light brown hair approached the entrance with quick strides, and he smiled at her. “Allison?”

He looked somewhat familiar but not quite like his profile picture on the internet. “Ron?”

“Yes, thank you for coming. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

“You too. I’m glad we can …” She stopped talking as she noticed the dark-haired man from the SUV approach. “Um, let’s go in,” she quickly stated, wanting to be away from the man who seemed to be stalking her.

“Is everything okay?” Ron asked.

“I’m not sure. This guy has been following me.”

Ron’s face paled and his eyes narrowed. “Who’s been following you?” His voice dropped and he sounded serious and concerned.

“I’m not sure … I just noticed this SUV …”

“Wait. I left something in my car.” Ron seemed agitated as he started to turn. Then he reached for her arm. “Come with me.” He pulled her with him into the parking lot.

The dark-haired man rushed toward them and took out a weapon. “Freeze!” he yelled. “Police!”

Ron held firmly to her arm and continued moving, pulling her through the parking lot toward his car.

“Wait,” Allison yelled, struggling to get free. “What is going on?”

Ron’s strong grip held her firmly. “That’s not the police. Stay with me.”

“Then who is that?”

“I’ll explain later. Let’s get in my car. We need to get out of here.”

“Stop! Police!” the dark-haired man yelled, rushing after them.

Confused, Allison glanced back at the man. Was he the stalker? Was he just pretending to be a cop? Or was he really the police? Was Ron who he said he was? Why would the police be after him? She had no idea who anyone was or who to trust. Nothing made sense.

Still holding tightly to her arm, Ron unlocked his car door and opened the passenger door. “Get in,” he ordered.

Feeling shaky, her breathing shallow, she backed up to the side of the car and stared at him. Nothing felt right anymore. “No,” she stated. “I can’t.”

Still gripping her arm, Ron glared at her. “Allison,” he shouted at her. “Get in the car. Now!”

Not knowing who to trust, but at least Ron was more familiar, she turned and took a step toward the door and put one foot into the car.

The dark-haired man rushed toward them, leaped forward, and grabbed Ron’s free arm.

Ron released Allison, and she quickly backed out of the car and scooted out of the way, watching in horror as Ron punched the man.

The man fought back and tackled Ron to the ground.

Horrified, Allison gasped and slowly stepped a few feet farther away, watching the men as their fists flew, pounding into each other’s body and face.

The two men wrestled, and finally the dark-haired man held Ron face down with a strong hold, took out handcuffs, and snapped them on Ron’s wrists.

Shocked and confused, Allison watched, frozen in place. Was he really a cop? She still wasn’t sure. She wanted to run but felt glued in place.

A couple minutes later, two cop cars pulled into the parking lot, their lights flashing. After coming to a stop, four uniformed officers jumped out of the vehicles and approached Ron and the man who now seemed to be an officer.

“Got him,” the officer who had wrestled the man said. He grabbed Ron’s handcuffed arms and helped him stand up. The five officers briefly spoke to each other, and one officer then took custody of Ron and walked him back to one of the patrol cars. He read Ron his rights and then pushed him into the back seat of the vehicle.

After the officers conferred with each other, two of the uniformed officers got back in their patrol car. The other two began taping off the area with crime-scene tape.

The dark-haired man approached Allison. “Ma’am, I’m Officer Samuels.” He took out and flashed a badge. “I apologize if I scared you by following you, but you were the best lead we had to get that guy.”

“To get Ron? What is going on? I was meeting him for a date.”

“Ma’am, I need to ask you a few questions and get a statement from you. Then I’ll explain everything.”

“I … I … okay.”

“You know what?” He relaxed and his voice softened. “You seem a bit on edge. Let’s go into the coffee shop and get a cup of coffee while we talk. You can relax, take your time, and answer some questions. Is that okay?”

Allison nodded. “Okay.”

After they were seated in a back corner of the coffee shop, Officer Samuels sipped his coffee. “So, first tell me how you met him and what happened. Don’t leave anything out.”

“Yes, of course.” Allison explained how they met and the progression of their contacts and how they had agreed to meet.

“So this is the first time you met him in person?”

“Yes. This was our first date. I was nervous and something didn’t feel right, but I tried to brush that off.”

The officer asked a few more questions, and Allison answered them as best she could.

After she answered his questions, Officer Samuels let out a long breath and watched her for a few moments. “That guy is not who he says he is, and you’re lucky we got here when we did. We’ve been trying to catch this guy for a while now. He befriends women online, lures them on a date, and then the women go missing, often turning up dead days later.”

“What?”

“He is a dangerous man.”

“I had no idea. I …”

“My advice? Don’t trust people you meet on the internet, especially if you don’t know them.” He shook his head. “You seem like a nice lady. I’m glad we got here in time and you’re safe. You have no idea how lucky you are.”

Allison picked at her napkin. “You’re right. I should have known. I was too trusting.” She should have listened to her gut that something wasn’t right from the beginning. The cop was right, and she vowed to be more careful.

The cop glanced around the coffee shop. “You know what? It’s lunchtime, and you were coming here expecting a meal. Do you want to get something to eat? We’re already here and I’m hungry. Is that okay? My treat.”

Allison gave a nervous smile. “Okay, I guess. But, Officer, I …”

“Hey, relax, it’s over. I won’t bite. Let’s just enjoy lunch. Just two people having a nice meal together. And please call me Greg.” He signaled a waitress over and asked for menus.

After they ordered, Allison looked at him. “But … Greg, how did you know I was going to meet him? And why were you following me and not him?”

“Good questions. We had finally narrowed down who he was and how he lured his victims. We found one of the names he was using and who he was pretending to be. He was in that book club looking for his next victim, and we were monitoring it. But his contact information was encrypted and fake, with his true identity hidden. So it was hard to get to him directly. We were watching to see his next move. You were our best chance to catch him.”

“I had no idea. I thought …”

“That’s how they work. They make friends with unsuspecting people, get you to trust them, and then ask to meet. My best advice is don’t trust people you meet online.” He paused to make sure that sunk in.

Allison nodded. “That’s good advice.”

The waitress returned with their order and set plates of steaming food on the table. “Anything else?” she asked as she refilled their coffee cups.

“No, we’re good, thank you,” the officer replied.

As they ate their food, the conversation turned more casual and personal, and they ended up laughing. Allison was surprised how comfortable she felt with him. Greg was kind, respectful, and funny, and she found that she was really enjoying her time with him. He was not at all what she expected when she first met him, thinking he was a stalker. Now she knew he was a good man, thoughtful and kind. And as she viewed his face, now that it was softer and more relaxed, she realized he was actually very attractive. She was sorry that the meal was ending.

Greg asked the waitress for the bill, and he then gave Allison his business card. “Thank you for joining me for lunch and answering all my questions.” He wiped his mouth with his napkin. “If you think of anything else, please call me.” He smiled, and his voice got softer. “Hey, even if you don’t think of anything else, you can call me any time.”

Allison laughed. “I will. You are very nice.”

His eyes grew warm. “Hey, I have a better idea. Can I call you? Could we do this again? I really enjoyed our time together.”

Allison smiled. “I’d like that. I enjoyed this too.”

After paying the bill, he turned to Allison. “I’m sorry your first date with him was not quite what you expected.”

“No, but I still had a first date, just with someone else.” Her smile grew wider. “And I had a very good time.”

He chuckled. “Thank you, Allison, that is kind of you to say.” He glanced at his watch. “I’m sorry, but I need to get back to the station. Let me walk you out and make sure you get safely to your car.”

As they walked through the coffee shop to the front, she felt his warm hand on her back guiding her, and the warmth seeped deeper into her body.

When they reached her car, he turned to her. “You are very sweet. Thank you for one of the best lunches I’ve had in a while.” He squeezed her arm. “Please stay safe. I’ll call you later.” He waited until she got in the car, then he waved, turned, and walked back toward the crime-scene area and the other officers.

As Allison drove home, listening to the rushing water in the river next to the road, she thought back over the events that day. This had definitely been a memorable first date, but not with whom she thought it would be. 

She smiled and found herself looking forward to a second date.

—————————————–

The Written Road – Behind the Story: Maybe It Was Memphis

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Rebecca Matthews from Pixabay.

Michele Sayre offers an insight into the process of writing a short story and the components that vary from writing a longer piece. Please visit Michele on her blog for more great articles and stories. https://michelesayre.com/

The Written Road – Behind the Story: Maybe It Was Memphis

Yesterday I cross-posted a short story I wrote for the Facebook group I am a group administrator for, Writers Unite!. First, I want to thank everyone who read it and shared their kind words about the story. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Now I want to take you into the writing of the story to try and illustrate a creative process for me that’s something I don’t really think about in words too often.

The story ‘Maybe It Was Memphis’ came from a prompt. A story prompt can be anything, such as a picture, a topic, or anything chosen. In this case, the prompt was a picture of a front porch swing.

Now with prompts there’s usually other requirements to work within, mainly the length of the story. This is to help writers focus their storytelling skills in order to tell a story that doesn’t wander all over the place or doesn’t go nowhere at all. For me, this front porch swing got me thinking about a song I’d heard years ago, “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis. The song mentions a front porch swing and is about a young woman meeting a young man sitting on the front porch swing of her mother’s house as the song goes. This first meeting gave me the starting point of the song.

Most of the time, coming up with the beginning of a story isn’t hard for me. Occasionally I have a hard time finding where to start the story but in this case, the opening scene you read came to me pretty quickly and I ran with it. And as you can see, I don’t write out a plot or an outline with my fiction. My writer’s brain does not work from outlines and such because that part of my brain thinks that if I outline a story then I’ve written it and that’s it. So I start from ideas and bits and pieces of scenes and lines of dialogue then go from there.

With a short story, one big thing that kept me from writing them for many years was the issue of plot. Then I realized in a short story the plot line has to be linear. By linear, I mean the plot has to function as a straight line with no off-shoots, or sub-plots as they’re also known. With this story, my plot line became how do I get these two characters together in the end when one of them is going off to war? Five years pass by in a thousand words or so and I’ve never written anything like that before.

The original mid-section actually got deleted and completely rewritten because in my first draft I had Carolyn’s brother killed in combat and John coming home and he and Carolyn bonding over that. But then I thought that’s been done before and it’s much more complicated to do therefore I deleted it and started over. Then two things brought me to the ending of the story: John realizing he saw no future for himself after the war was over, and Bryce (Carolyn’s brother) talking about a woman who referred to herself and him as ‘The River and the Highway’. Because in a way, John and Carolyn were a river and a highway in that they had their own lives halfway around the world from each other but they felt a connection with each other and Carolyn had promised to wait for John no matter what. So with that, I had the ending in place: that connection even in an uncertain future.

Another thought that came to me with the ending of this story was how soldiers have a tremendous amount of difficulty adjusting to life at home after being away at war for so long. In my story, when it came to the end of war, John just didn’t see a future other than hopefully with Carolyn. Now Carolyn understood that John would need time to adjust and figure out his path in life. Carolyn’s way of thinking is to just take things one day at a time and figure out as you go along, which is how I feel about life in general. That patience and understanding are what bring John and Carolyn together in the end.

To add here: since I didn’t kill off Carolyn’s brother Bryce I will be writing his story for this month’s prompt with my group Writer’s Unite!. It will be how he learns to understand what his lady Christie means when she describes their relationship as the river and the highway. So far all I can tell you is their story is a road-trip with an overnight stay. It’s about two people together with nothing else to do but talk things out. That’s the basic idea anyway. Now all I’ve got to do is just write it and figure out what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it, and work things out.

Check out Michele’s story and other stories written for the May 2022 prompt in the Writers Unite! archives.

WRITE THE STORY! JUNE 2022 PROMPT

Welcome to Write the Story!

The porch swing from the May prompt generated several excellent, nostalgic stories and poetry. This month a lonely road and a babbling stream are the writers’ muse. Looking forward to June’s stories.

Thanks to the writers who submitted a story and to the readers who enjoyed them. We appreciate your participation in Write The Story!

Now on to the June prompt!

A reminderWU! created this project with two goals: providing a writing exercise and promoting our author sites to increase reader traffic. We ask that you please include a link to the Writers Unite! blog when you post your story elsewhere. By doing so, you are also helping promote your fellow members and Writers Unite! We encourage all of you to share each other’s stories to help all of us grow. Thanks!

Write the Story! June 2022 Prompt

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

Here’s the plan:

  • You write a story of 3000 words or less (minimum 500 words) or a poem (minimum 50 words) based on and referring to the image provided and post it on the author site you wish to promote. Don’t forget to give your story a title. (Note: You do not have to have a website/blog/FB author page to participate, your FB profile or WordPress link is fine.)
  • Please edit these stories. We will do minor editing, but WU! reserves the right to reject publishing the story if poorly written.
  • The story must have a title and author name and must include the link to the site you wish to promote.
  • Send the story and link to the site via Facebook Messenger to Deborah Ratliff or email to writersunite16@gmail.com. Put “Write the Story” in the first line of the message.
  • Please submit your story by the 25th day of the month.

WU! will post your story on our blog and share it across our platforms— FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The story will also be available in the archives on the WU! blog, along with the other WTS entries.

We ask that you share the link to the WU! blog so that your followers can also read your fellow writers’ works.

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.

—————–

 Please visit Writers Unite! Facebook and join us at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/

Michele Sayre: Maybe It Was Memphis

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Rebecca Matthews from Pixabay.

Maybe It Was Memphis

Michele Sayre

Summer 2016

The summer night was beautiful but she couldn’t appreciate it with a date who wasn’t taking any hints that he was not going to come inside with her.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you to your door?”

“I’m sure. Good night, Jeffrey.” She used his full name to make her point because in the South that meant you were truly done with someone.

“Alright, Carolyn. I’ll call you.”

She wanted to tell him not to, but he was already back in his car and probably heading to some honky-tonk where he’d charm some floozy into bed with him.

Carolyn opened the wrought-iron gate and headed up to the old house she’d inherited, a lovely three-story built by her great-grandfather for her great-grandmother after he’d gotten home from World War One, a war she’d waited through for him.

As she heard the creak of the front-porch swing, she skidded to a stop as she saw her brother’s best friend, John Calloway sitting there looking way too good in the moonlit night.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” She came up onto the porch in front of him. “I thought you were out with my brother.”

“Place was too noisy, and I wasn’t in the mood to yell over a bad band. Did you have a nice time at the club?”

“Hell no.”

That made him smile and laugh just a little, a sound that made her smile, too. She’d known John since her brother had brought him home last Christmas from their final round of Army Ranger training. John was from a small town in Mississippi he said he didn’t want to go back to as he didn’t have any family there, but he was still a good Southern boy. And he was also damn good looking: tall, muscled but not overly so, his dark hair military-cut short but thick, and his eyes were like the dark green of a hidden pond.

“So, what happened?” He asked.

“Oh, my date completely ignored me to talk with his buddies and all the other women under forty ignored me while they were shooting daggers at me thinking I was going to steal their husbands. I would have rather sat on the porch with you.”

“Carolyn…”

She took a step closer to him, then she decided to take the next step with her words.

“I know there is some ‘rule’ that a guy’s not supposed to have anything to do with his best friend’s sister but that’s not a law you have to avoid breaking. I’m a grown woman and I can take care of myself.”

He stood up and she tilted her head back slightly to look up at his beautiful face. “You know what I want to do most with a man? Slow-dance with him, have him hold me where I can hear his heartbeat and feel his arms around me.”

“I can do that. I’d love to slow-dance with you.”

She took his hand, “Inside, in my room.”

John couldn’t believe he was doing this, but he wanted to be with her so much tonight. She looked like the sweetest vision in her soft white dress with little red flowers on it, a dress that left her legs and arms bare and made him want to run his hands over her smooth skin.

She led him to her bedroom upstairs then closed the door behind them. She bent down and took off her sandals.

“Take off your boots and socks.”

He did as she went over to her desk and plugged in her iPod to her speakers. The first song came on and they both smiled as it was “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis.

“About us?” He asked as she came into his arms.

“Are you a lonely boy far from home?”

“Not anymore.”

She laid her head against his chest they listened to Ms. Tillis sing about moonlight and a love so soft and sweet. Then she looked up at him, “I know you and Bryce ship out in three days….”

“We can make the most of whatever time we have.”

She laid her head against his chest again and he swayed her with his arms as he wrestled with his feelings. This was no flirtation or one-night stand for him, or at least he didn’t want it to be for just one night. This was two people finding each other with no time to savor the feeling of falling in love.

She went still in his arms and lifted her head away from his chest, he slowly bent down and as her eyes closed, he touched his lips to hers. Her arms wound up around his neck as he kissed her slowly, drawing every second out between them.

“Are you sure? Because I want to be with you.”

“I am.”

Carolyn felt her heart soar at the look in John’s eyes, desire and heat, and something more, a word she was hesitating to use… love. But that’s what they were going to do here, make love.

Clothes came off slowly until they stood naked in the moonlit bedroom then he picked her up and laid her down on her bed. He touched her with a gentleness that said more than words ever could, pleasure slowly building between them.

The music faded out as they found release together then he held her in his arms as she fell asleep to the sound of his heart beating under her ear, a heart that would only beat for her.

~~~

Dawn slowly crept into her bedroom and woke her up, a smile blooming across her face as she opened her eyes to see John sleeping peacefully beside her. They’d made love twice last night, both times long, slow, and sweet. And now he was sound asleep while she was awake, so she decided to let him sleep.

She got dressed and went downstairs to start breakfast but found her brother instead fussing with the coffeemaker. It amazed her that he could do things with guns and stuff she didn’t want to but faced with common household appliances…

“Let me.” She quickly got the coffee going as he sat down at the table.

“Where’s John? He wasn’t in his room.”

Carolyn turned to face her brother, “He’s sleeping in my bed and do not say a word until I say you can speak.”

She sat down across from him, “He spent the night with me. And that so-called ‘rule’ about guys being with their buddy’s sister is total bullshit so don’t start on that. And last night was special.”

She got up and poured two cups of coffee, then she sat back down with their coffee. “Now you can speak.”

“I think you said it all, little sister.”

“Good.” Then she looked up as she saw John standing in the doorway. She wondered how much he had heard but she wasn’t going to ask. “Good morning, John.”

“Good morning.”

She got up from the table. “I’m going to fix breakfast now.”

“I’ll help.” John said as he came into the kitchen.

“Thanks.”

“And I’ll watch.” Bryce said with a smile.

John turned back to face him, “Really, bro?”

Carolyn came up beside John, “Obviously you haven’t tried to eat his cooking. Which is why I only let him set the table.”

They all laughed at that and all she could think was that everything was going to be alright.

~~~

Over the next three days, they made the most of their time together. During the day she hung out with her brother and John, having fun and goofing off. At night her brother would go out and she and John would slow dance, talk, and make love.

Then early in the morning after fixing them breakfast one last time, she stood on the sidewalk as John and her brother loaded up to drive to their base in Kentucky. They’d ship out from there to Afghanistan, right into a war. It was hard enough watching her brother leave but now she had two men to worry about, and love more than anything.

“I know you two will look out for each other, but I’m going to tell you to do so anyway. And when you get there, let me know what you need so I can start sending care packages.”

Bryce hugged her tightly then let her go, “I’ll give you and John a moment. You can even kiss him goodbye if you want to.”

She smiled as John pulled her in for one last hug. She closed her eyes as she took one last listen to his heartbeat, then she lifted her head from his chest and reached up and whispered in his ear, “I’ll wait for you.”

Then she let go of him before he could say anything to her. She watched them drive off until she couldn’t see them anymore, then she walked back towards her house, all alone now.

~~~

Over the next five years, the war in Afghanistan raged on though largely outside the awareness of the average American. Communication with John and her brother could be sporadic at times, and with no talk of what they were doing day in and day out. Visits home became farther and farther apart and both John and her brother changed in subtle ways each time they were home, hyper-aware of things, leery of crowds, loud noises, and struggling to talk about their feelings.

Carolyn just tried to give them the space they needed while trying not to burden them with her own struggles. She had discovered a love of fixing things and rehabbing old houses, working hard to get her contractor’s license along with licenses for plumbing and electrical work. She struggled to build up crews she could really on and not bash some sexist asshole upside the head with a hammer when he tried to do the ‘good ‘ol boy’ Southern charmer routine on her.

She and John hadn’t made any formal commitment to one another but every time she did go out with her friends, no guy could compare to John. Because when John came back to her, they picked up where they left off. They sat outside on the porch swing, slow danced in her bedroom, made love like there was no tomorrow.

~~~

Late Summer 2021, Afghanistan

John listened to the a/c unit in their room moan and groan like it was dying as he opened up his laptop and booted it up. He’d been trying to answer Carolyn’s last email for three days but with preparations for the withdrawal ramping up fast personal time was at a premium.

“Hey, man. Got a minute?” Bryce asked as he walked in and sat down on his bunk.

“Sure.” John set his laptop down and turned to face his best friend.

“How do you and Carolyn… how have you two kept it going despite barely spending any time together?”

“There’s a connection between us, and every moment we do spend together just… strengthens that, I guess. I feel like I can talk to her about anything even when there is crap I can’t talk about. And besides, she said she’d wait for me.”

“Why? She’s got her own life and everything. I mean, it’s not you’re a bad guy or not for her, or some… oh crap, man I’m sorry.”

“Christie left, didn’t she.” John saw right through Bryce’s meandering questions to what Bryce really needed to talk about.

“She’s been assigned to the evac at Kabul airport.”

Both of them knew the withdrawal from Afghanistan was probably going to be as chaotic and crazy as it was in Saigon in 1975, but here there was an added risk of suicide bombers said to be targeting the airport.

“I’ve known Christie for ten years and although we haven’t been ‘faithful’ to each other, every time I see her I just want to be with her. But she says she’s the river to my highway though and she says that’s why we don’t stand a chance with each other. Do you ever feel that way about you and Carolyn?”

John didn’t have an answer to that because he hadn’t let himself think about any kind of a future when in-country. But he knew the war was ending and he had to go home and face Carolyn, and find the words to talk about their future.

 It was a gorgeous September afternoon when Carolyn walked down to the street to her house. The meeting with her latest clients was within walking distance of her house so she’d enjoyed the sunshine to and from, and the meeting was with a lesbian couple so no male egos, just lots of laughs and great ideas.

The war in Afghanistan had ended with a hasty evacuation and a terrible tragedy at the Kabul airport there, and for close to twelve hours she didn’t know if John and her brother were among the wounded, or the dead. They got out a brief message to her letting her know they were alright and would be home when they finished in-processing and de-briefing.

So many lives were now hanging in the balance of the future and the past, she thought to herself as she rounded the corner and started up the street to her house. She realized in the five years with John that they had never once talked about their future together, or if they had one at all. She had never asked about any plans he had and she wondered she would follow him around if he stayed in the Army and got re-assigned to a base out of state, or even out of the country.

Then she opened the gate at her front walk and as she turned around after closing it behind her, she saw John step out of her house. She ran up the walk to him and he grabbed her as she raced up the steps. They held each other tightly as she closed her eyes against the sudden heat of tears in her eyes. She was so happy to see him but felt almost overwhelmed with emotions, too.

Then she heard the door open and John let her go and set her on her feet as her brother walked out of the house. She gave him a hug then looked at them. “So, will you two be here for a while or…?”

“Well I was headed to the store to get a few things so we can barbeque tonight.” Bryce said.

“Then let me give you my list from my phone here.” She pulled out her phone and sent the list to his phone. “Try not to forget everything I have on it.”

“I won’t.” Bryce kissed her cheek then gave her a wink before heading down the sidewalk to his truck.

As her brother pulled away, Carolyn went over to the porch swing and sat down. John sat on the railing in front of her, looking down at the floor like he was trying to figure out what to say. Then he looked right up at her and spoke.

“Before I met you, I thought I’d just do my twenty in the Army then buy a little cabin someplace and live out the rest of my days alone. But since I’ve met you, I haven’t thought like that at all…. I’m leaving the Army. I don’t want you traipsing from base to base with me or just waiting here. But I’m sure about much else…”

She got up and went over to him. “I’ve waited for you to come home to me, to want to come home to me. And here you are. Here we are.”

He held her gently in his arms as they were face to face, and heart to heart.

“I don’t know what I want to do  with myself, like, work-wise.”

She smiled at that opening, “You can swing a hammer, right? I could always use another hand on my crews, and you can work with me until you get your feet underneath you.”

“I’d like that.” He smiled at that then kissed her softly.

“All we can do is take things one day at a time.”

“I love you, Carolyn.”

“I love you, too.”

They shared another kiss, then a soft wave of heat began to rise up between them. He stood up then scooped her up in his arms. She wound her arms around his neck and said in his ear.

“Maybe it was you, maybe it was me, but it sure feels right. Now, and forever.”

Please visit Michele on her website:  https://michelesayre.com

Calliope Njo: The House Is Alive

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Rebecca Matthews from Pixabay.

The House Is Alive

Calliope Njo

Things sort of got turned upside down since the pandemic hit. I didn’t so much lose my job as they told me there was nothing I could do. If I had other skills such as answering the telephone or typing, then they could keep me. Otherwise, it would be best to find other means.

It was an office complex that kept food on my plate and gave me the ability to drive a car. I worked in the mailroom. It didn’t satisfy any need I had other than that. I had dreams of doing something more physical.

I wanted construction. It’s what Dad did, what Grandpa did, and so on down the line. Mom did the catering, Aunt Doris and Aunt Ethel cleaned houses, and Grandma stitched anything that needed to be stitched.

Me? I was supposed to fall in line with the women, but I couldn’t thread a needle for the life of me. That little thread never got into that little hole. I burned water more times than I dared to count.

If it wasn’t for the microwave, I’d starve. Dad worked in a construction company, and that’s what I wanted to do.

I had a vision of owning a construction company. With Dad’s help, I thought we could be on top. It meant a lot of hard work, but I believed we could make it work.

So when an opportunity to redevelop an area came up, I jumped at the opportunity. With Dad’s and Grandpa’s help, we could do it. An application needed to be filled out and submitted with detailed plans along with one thousand dollars to buy the property. If approved, then a lending company would donate one hundred and fifty thousand dollars as the funds to buy materials and hire the necessary subcontractors. The winner would then have the opportunity to create their own construction business. The money from the sale of the house would go to a veteran’s non-profit.

Everybody would win. It was a great idea.

I went to the designated area and had flashbacks. The area used to house those who worked in an iron factory. After World War II, the factory got shut down. A dairy company then bought it, but after so many disasters, they pulled out along with the population that used to live in this area. Somebody bought up the area and did something with it.

The houses had peeling paint, holes in the porches, broken windows, graffiti, and dead animals. All of them could be demolished and rebuilt again. However, that would take more time and money than what was given.

The one I wanted was the one with the porch swing. It seemed to be the most intact, meaning that if I dared to walk on the floor, a hole wouldn’t appear out of nowhere. I gathered up the money and did the paperwork. We were approved. From that point forward, we had seven weeks.

That was a lot to accomplish in seven weeks.

We worked night, day, and weekends on that house. Thank God Mom provided food. My aunts volunteered to do any cleaning that needed to be done and that helped a lot. Grandma, being Grandma, made sure all of us had clean clothes every day.

We gutted it. That way, we could see what was underneath and talk about what needed fixing. Which was everything.

We didn’t get outside yet, so that meant the swing was still intact. As a test, I put a full tool box on it and it didn’t fall. It stayed put. I sat down with the intention of it only being for a few minutes.

“I hope you like it here,” a girl said. “It’s an old thing. Needs a group of peeps to keep it.”

What? I did not know what she was talking about. I didn’t even know how she got here. “Uh. I just sat down here to rest a little. Your parents might miss you.”

“Na. Dad’s still at work. Mama went to town to get some stuff. Probably a sack of taters or some rat poison. The baby died last night. Dad buried it in the backyard before he gone to work this mornin’.”

Oh, my god. Why does this child sound so cold? As if nothing happened. “I gotta get back. It was nice meeting you.” If I had a dollar, I would’ve given it to her, but I didn’t think to bring my wallet.

I walked a few steps away when I realized she could help us by picking up the trash. That would help. I turned around to talk to her about it but she disappeared. Maybe she left, and I didn’t realize it.

It was about the middle of talking about whom to hire to do the electrical when something crashed. Aunt Doris and Aunt Ethel went home to take care of their families. Grandma went home for the day. That left Dad, Grandpa, and me standing around a table to work out the kitchen.

Dad went out back, Grandpa stayed inside, while I went out front to see what happened. The swing was still there. No new holes in the porch. So the only thing I could think of was the fireplace was falling apart. It had been doing that every day since we got here. We were going to demolish it anyway and put in a new one.

Dad and I found Grandpa in the future kitchen. He kneeled on the floor with a coin in his hand. “This is a 1932 penny. Not shiny, but it doesn’t have any holes in it. This house must be about that old. They say a found penny brings good luck. I’ll put it in my pocket.” He checked his watch. “It’s best we get goin’. The open style kitchen would help to sell it to the new buyers. So we’ll go for that. I still don’t like the idea of the bleach-white cabinets, with the bleach-white countertop, and bleach-white walls. This ain’t a hospital. It’s a house. I say we use wood for the cabinets and keep them that way. We just use a lighter wood. That would be best, I think.” He stood up with a lot of moaning and groaning. ”Tomorrow at nine. Night and God bless.” He ambled out the door.

The house was too small to have walls other than in the bedrooms and the bathroom. Leave everything else open. A more modern style. I heard that moan and raised him two yawns when I finished that thought. It sure felt good, though. “So tomorrow at nine?” I said through another.

“I hear ya. Light wood cabinets are fine. We still need to work on the layout, though. Maybe Dad is tired, so his mind couldn’t function.” He laughed. “I knew I got it from someone. Night kiddo. Take care of yourself.” He kissed my forehead.

Kiddo? I wasn’t a kiddo. I was twenty-eight.

Since everybody else left, I figured I might as well, too. I needed a shower, some food, and some sleep, in that order. “Good night, house. See you in the morning. We’ll take care of the rest later. Night.”

I always thought people might see me as being crazy for talking to a building. I might be, but I had a reason. A house that sits deteriorates quicker than one that’s being lived in. Since we broke it down to bare bones, it had to feel something. Didn’t it?

On the way home, I dropped into a burger place and grabbed a cheeseburger and a Coke. Maybe the caffeine and the sugar would help to give me enough oomph to make it to the door, or maybe to the shower. Whatever.

The following days were coming along. We finished the kitchen with Grandpa’s insistence that the sink be in front of the window. Why? Because that’s where Grandma likes it. We shrugged and moved along to the family room.

I didn’t see the girl during that time. There were only about three weeks left. We took alternating naps to get the place ready for inspection and for sale.

With about a week left, we started work on the outside.

Dad wanted the front porch to be more than a front porch. He envisioned a screened-in porch. I had to say goodbye to the porch swing. I liked that swing because I could sit on it. It also felt like it belonged.

That was when things sort of went crazy. Walls would collapse. Holes in the floor would appear out of nowhere. Windows would shatter and millions of tiny pieces of glass would fall to the floor. These were brand new. We didn’t install them that long ago.

Dad almost got his head smashed by a flying hammer. I told him I didn’t do it. We had our differences, yeah, but that didn’t mean I wanted to kill him.

Grandpa had chest pains. He said it didn’t feel like a horse. It felt more like an elephant. Grandpa was a healthy man. Grandma made sure he took his vitamins, drank plenty of water, and ate plenty of fruits and vegetables. They walked for an hour everyday plus construction. Yet he was complaining of chest pains.

A box of nails marched on the floor. Then somehow came into formation to build a wall in the middle of the air. I ducked for my life as they came right at me. I heard them slam into the wall behind me.

Dad came running in and he yelled about me being reckless. I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to nail myself to the wall. Of course, he thought I did it to get attention.

That was when I had second thoughts about this project. Last-minute fixes coming up were to be expected. That’s how things worked sometimes.

Between the deadline and finishing the house, along with Dad’s and Grandpa’s issues, I started to have second thoughts about all of this. Maybe my dream of owning my company wasn’t going to happen.

Dad left after the nail incident. He was angry with his stiff jaw, even though he said he was fine. Of course, I didn’t believe it, but it’s not like I wanted us to be together at that moment either.

I took on the front porch by myself. The project had to be completed. Even if we didn’t win this thing. We could look back on it with thoughts of it being an honest day’s work.

I took down the swing, but instead of getting rid of it, I thought of redoing it with new boards and fresh paint. The sun was about to set and that meant getting out the lanterns. I couldn’t work in the dark.

“All right, house. What do you think? We got the cement poured early in the project and that’s why it’s hard now. That way, we don’t worry about falling through the holes.” I laughed. “Tomorrow, hopefully, Dad will be here to do the backyard. That’s always been his thing. While he’s doing that, I’m going to go to a sort of rummage store. They have a whole lot of stuff to choose from. Most for free if you know how to refinish it. Then, you’ll be beautiful. Oh wait, I have to install the screens, so you’ll have a screened-in porch. Yeah. OK.”

I got the screens from someone’s trash. They weren’t broken beyond repair and only torn around the edges. I worked on that until I couldn’t work anymore. Someone I knew worked with glass. I hoped I could talk to him about the possibility of getting windows to fit in over the screen at a reasonable price. There were piles of red bricks scattered around the property. Most were in good shape and maybe there were enough to provide a finishing touch.

After a good night’s sleep and a hot shower, I returned the next day. Dad was in the back doing the backyard. He started pouring the cement for the backyard when something came right at him. I grabbed the closest thing I could, which was the trash can lid, to stop it. It worked and Dad didn’t look up. Of course, my arm hurt, but at least Dad would be OK.

“Morning, Dad.” I waved.

“Morning, Pipsqueak.” He smiled.

Yeah. Things were OK. I shook my head and went around to find Grandpa.

The kitchen was finished, and that led out to the family room. It was an open area instead of the closed off option, which might’ve made the space feel smaller. After looking at the completed area, it looked better than I thought it would.

Grandpa was finishing the floor tiles in the bathroom. We agreed it wasn’t big enough to have two bedrooms. So we arranged the floor plans to have a master bedroom with a connecting bathroom and a small office space.

“Morning, Grandpa.”

“Morning. Got my coffee?”

“You didn’t order any.”

“I coulda sworn I did. All right. When I finish up here, I’ll go out and get some.”

“Just be careful.”

“Always.”

I made my way to the front, and it looked gorgeous. The red brick would show it off. Be something different to sort of glam up the space.

“All right, House. I’m going to put up the brick. While that’s sitting, I’m going to redo the swing. Not get rid of it, no no. Redo it and put it back up. Then there will be a nice sitting corner, I think. You’ll love it.”

I spent the entire morning doing that. Thank God Mom came by with food. I was starved by then. Outside the house, I sat on a tree stump and looked at it. I stood up and took a couple of steps back and smiled. “Now, you look fantastic.”

I spent the rest of the day picking up. My aunts agreed to come by and clean it up before we went back and told them it’s done. Of course, we needed to get the inspection paperwork in before doing that.

Everybody else had gone home while I stayed and sorted through the paperwork.

“So. You done now?”

That voice sounded familiar. I looked to my right, and that girl reappeared. “Hi. You need something?”

“Nah. Just sittin’. I got worried when this chair was gone. I got angry.”

“Dad wanted to get rid of it. I didn’t. I just took it apart, got some fresh supplies, and redid it. There was a picture in my head of the perfect front porch. All I needed were the parts. The house supplied the rest.”

“You done good then. You gonna be here?”

“Uh.” This conversation went from typical to creepy. “What do you mean?”

“Gonna live here?”

All the time that we had been talking, she looked at the ground. I didn’t mind that much. Lots of people do that, including me. When she looked at me there were no eyes where there should have been.

I got up and made my way towards the door. “We just rebuilt it. We don’t have plans to live in it. There’s some paperwork to finish before submitting it to the county office. They’ll put it up for sale. That’s how this works.”

“I see.” She stood up and walked to me. “So you tore me up and put me back together ‘cause you felt like it?”

I gulped. That was when what she said penetrated my brain. Tore her up and put her—she’s the house. “No, no. House, listen to me. We didn’t tear you up because we were mean. We tore you up and put you back together to give you another life. So that you can feel useful again. That’s why we did it. You got tired of sitting here and doing nothing. Right? Well, this will give you another life.”

“I suppose. You better be right ’bout this. I know who you are and how to find you.”

“All I can say is it might not happen right away. It will happen, but it will take time. You look beautiful now. Right? The factories are gone, but I know there’s a company that’s going to come in. Someone will take care of you when that happens. It will take time.”

The girl blinked, turned around, and went inside. When she did that, I collapsed on the floor. I looked over at the swing and remembered that the paperwork still needed to be finished. I stood up and walked over.

The paperwork was completed and stacked on the table. “Thank you.” I grabbed all of it and locked the place before I left.

I turned it in and needed to wait six to eight weeks for approval. After that, another two weeks before they made a decision.

Those six to eight weeks felt like sixty to eighty years before I got a letter telling me they approved. It only took another two days before another letter came telling me they had plans to put it up for sale. It seems that I was the only one who finished. Two other groups tried and left after the first day.

Rumor went around that two other groups couldn’t finish because their tools kept disappearing. They ran out of money before completion. They left.

Another group didn’t finish because the general contractor got nailed to the wall. The others in the company ran out and left everything behind. None of them got over the vision of seeing their boss in that state.

It seemed I was the only one who finished and they had plans to make my house a showpiece of what the future might hold. I had no idea any of that happened. I only knew there were two other groups.

When I told Dad, he laughed. Grandpa gave his usual yup and went back to reading the paper. Neither helped, not that I was looking for it.

I went back to the historical society and looked up the area. Nothing happened there that I didn’t already know. So how did those houses become possessed? There were always people coming in and out. Maybe one of them did some horrible things, and we suffered for it?

It didn’t take any time at all before they sold the house. It seemed the CEO of a new incoming company loved it. Couldn’t pass it up because of the screened-in porch. So House could feel useful again. It still made me wonder about the other two.

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

Courtney E. Taylor: The Return

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Rebecca Matthews from Pixabay.

The Return 

Courtney E. Taylor

She looked up into unmistakable green eyes.

It couldn’t possibly be him.

But it was.

“Hey, Liz.” His voice was as smooth as ever.

She opened and closed her mouth twice before finally releasing a pathetic, “Hey.”

He smiled. When she didn’t say more, he asked, “Is the soda fountain open?”

She couldn’t keep staring. “Sure. What can I get you?” She retreated behind the counter as he selected a stool and a beverage.

As soon as she served his drink, she fled to the kitchen. She hoped no one would notice the shift in her demeanor — she was high strung on the average day — but she could feel her heart racing and imagined everyone in the café could see it.

Four years had passed since this man had exited her life. She had anticipated their final farewell, yet she had grieved the culmination of their relationship for weeks. Eventually, she had come to terms with that broken piece of her heart, the part that would always be his. From time to time, it would pulse as a memory forced itself to the surface to remind her of the love she had felt for him. But she had truly believed she would never see him again in person.

Now he was sipping a soda just a few feet away.

She had to keep moving. Her small staff could handle this midafternoon crowd, but she couldn’t simply dash out the back door. She washed her hands, patted her cheeks with the damp paper towel, and grabbed a pitcher of iced tea to refill glasses and check on the customers.

She gave Chris a glance with a quick smile as she passed but kept her eyes to the floor as she moved across the room.

Three glasses and five nervous minutes of small talk later, she had to return to the counter. There was no way around it.

She finally faced Chris. “Can I get you anything else?” She probably only gave him a second to answer, but even that felt too long. “What are you doing here?”

His smile had faded, but that only increased his handsomeness. “Can we talk for a minute outside?”

She nodded. “Ok.” She paused to ensure that her staff would indeed be fine without her for a few minutes, then led the way through the front door.

Sunlight broke through the trees, creating a spotted pattern on the wooden porch. The air was unusually comfortable for that early in the year.

The hinges creaked as they lowered themselves onto the swing.

Seriousness filled Chris’ face. The intensity made her pulse quicken. She wanted to end the silence that had followed them outside, but words escaped her.

He stared at her for a long moment. Then he leaned forward with his elbows balanced against his knees, his eyes on his folded hands. “I’m getting married in three months.”

Good. He wasn’t there to woo her again. “Congratulations!” What else could she say?

He dipped his head in a nod. “We’ll buy a house, we’ll have children.” He paused. “But it should be you.”

She jerked her head in his direction.

He didn’t meet her gaze. “For days, weeks, you have filled my mind. Every time I close my eyes, there you are. When I kiss my fiancée, I think of you. Every waking moment, I crave you.”

She studied his profile. “Is this what cold feet look like?” She didn’t expect him to laugh. “I’m not sure what advice you want me to give you.”

“I’m not looking for advice. I just had to see you again.”

She knew better than to ask if his wife-to-be knew where he was. “Is she all the things you wanted, all the things I’m not?”

“She’s flawless. She fits every checkbox.” He closed his eyes. “I love her, but her perfection falls short. She’s not you.”

“What do you want me to say?” Liz whispered.

He turned his head to look at her without offering an answer.

“All those years, we had each other. But that’s so far behind us.”

“Fifteen years.” The swing rocked gently beneath them as he leaned back. “Fifteen years of weaving in and out of each other’s lives. I was certain that you were only part of my journey, not my future. I had to let go of you to pursue my dreams. Now I’ve achieved nearly all of those dreams. The only one left to fulfill is creating a family.” He paused, his eyes burning into hers. “I’ve finally realized that those times together created a chain binding me to you. You are wrapped around my every choice, my every move. I can cut you out of my life again and again, but you are locked in my heart. Nothing I can do will break that bond.”

She wanted to reach for his hand. She wanted to kiss him. Yet she held back. She couldn’t crumble.

“I love you. I’ve always loved you.”

Tears betrayed her. “You told me to move on. You said you released me.”

His shoulders sank slightly. “I know. I’m so sorry I hurt you. It seemed like the right decision back then. But now…”

“Now doesn’t matter. You’re committed to someone else. Remember? You wouldn’t say it, but it was written all over your face. I’m not the girl for you.”

He opened his hands with defeat. “I was wrong. You are undoubtedly the woman for me, and we still have a chance to make it work.”

She stared at him blankly. This suggestion was ludicrous. Was he serious? Could she even consider it? What would she have to sacrifice to accept his offer? Would they finally have the life together that had always seemed just out of reach?

The waitress stuck her head out the front door. “That guy from the Southern Supplies finally called back. I know you didn’t want to miss him.”

That interruption pulled Liz back to reality. By sunset, he could easily cut her out of his memory again, but she would still have bills to pay and a business to run.

Her eyes darted from Chris to the waitress to her hands and back again. “I have to go.”

He stood when she did, but she didn’t have the nerve to stand eye to eye with him. She stepped toward the door, frantically trying to pull together a respectable farewell. “I’m sorry. Congratulations again. I hope everything goes well.”

She felt her throat closing as she crossed the threshold. That was not how she’d wanted him to remember her, sounding like a Hallmark card, but she couldn’t run back outside for another try. She couldn’t face him again.

She picked up the phone and greeted her vendor with all the enthusiasm she could muster. She leaned her forehead against the heel of her hand, her eyes closed, her mind only half processing the information coming through the wire.

She was afraid to look out of the window. She knew he’d be gone. That was his MO. But she couldn’t believe he’d been there in the first place.

Still, her insides sank when she ended the call and had to face the dining room and the empty porch beyond it. She stared, trying to wrap her mind around the reality that he had come calling again, professing his undying love for her.

The waitress paused with a tray of dirty dishes balanced on the edge of the counter. “Here, that guy left this for you.”

Liz turned the business card over in her hands. It was nothing special, not even instructions to call him scribbled on the back. Yet it held the weight of a diamond ring, waiting for her to say yes or no.

The closed sign clanked against the front door as she pulled it shut behind her. She dropped onto the swing and pushed her feet against the deck to set it in motion.

Her mind was spinning in a million directions. The dry goods order was going to come a day late. She needed to visit the grocer to restock the garnishes. She owed her friend Megan a return call. The front door needed a new coat of paint. A few branches of greenery were encroaching onto the porch.

The tears caught her completely by surprise.

I love you. I’ve always loved you.

The very words that could have changed her life, offered an eternity too late.

Why had he resurfaced after all this time, and what was she supposed to do about it?

Megan showed up four days later as Liz was locking the cash register for the night. “Wine, please!” Megan knew that the café didn’t have a liquor license, but Liz always had a personal bottle stashed away for nights like these. They grabbed the wine and headed for the porch.

Megan settled on the swing with her glass. “So what happened while I was gone?”

Liz closed her sweater against the cool evening air and let the swing move back and forth a few times before answering. “I’ll give you one guess who showed up last week.”

Megan gaped at her. “Did you immediately tell him to go to hell?”

Liz’s eyes shifted to the ground.

“You listened to him??”

“I couldn’t actually slam the door in his face! I hadn’t heard from him in four years. Four years. But here he was, telling me that he still loves me.”

“What an asshole!”

Liz wouldn’t argue with that. “It’s a fairytale and nightmare combined. The love of my life came crawling back — on the eve of his wedding.”

As she attempted to recount the full conversation, she could feel herself getting worked up again. The emotions were as real as they had been when Chris had sat next to her in this same spot. “What did he expect me to say? ‘Sure, let me leave everything I’ve worked so hard to build behind to satisfy your desire?’”

“How did you leave things?” Megan asked.

Liz swirled the wine in her glass and watched it with contemplation. “We were interrupted. It was for the best. I don’t know how I would have escaped otherwise.”

“And you haven’t heard from him since?”

She shook her head again. “Not a word. And I have no right to feel anything about that. On one hand, vanishing like this is normal for him, the one thing I couldn’t let go of the last time we got together. On the other, good riddance. Hearing from him again would only make the situation worse.”

Megan looked at Liz skeptically. “But deep down?”

Liz sighed. “Deep down, I want to know everything about how his life has turned out. We were never just friends, but I wish we were now.”

Megan laughed. “You couldn’t be further from it. Evidently, you have become both the love of his life and the other woman.”

“Hey!” Liz smacked her friend’s arm with the back of her hand. “I’m not the other woman. I didn’t do anything.”

“Not a single melt-your-knees kiss?”

Liz shook her head. “Not even a handshake or hug hello.”

“Wow.”

They fell into companionable silence for a while, watching cars pass on the street and listening to birds settling down for the night.

“Is he still as hot as he was back then?”

Blood raced through Liz’s veins at the recollection. “Every bit.”

“Damn.”

They lingered on the porch until well after midnight. At last, they ran out of wine.

Megan stretched as she stood up. “I hope I’m here if he shows up again.”

Liz grinned. “You picked one hell of a week to leave town.” She gave her friend a big hug. “Thank you for letting me process all of this with you. Now I can shove it into the box of memories, out of mind at last.”

Megan stopped Liz at arm’s length and held her eyes for a moment. “I’m proud of you for saying that, but… You can still change your destiny. I’ll give him grief ’til my dying day because of the heartache he’s caused you, but I know you cling to those intermittent memories. He has given you countless moments so perfect they might’ve been stolen from Hollywood. But whatever happens next, it’s up to you. If you want that future, go after it. If you don’t want it, you’ll be fine that way too. I’ll stand with you either way.”

Liz rocked slowly as the warm evening air wrapped around her like a hug. The sun was down, but the neighborhood wouldn’t fall silent for a few more hours.

Her heart stopped as the murmurs of an old song vibrated down the road. He’s getting married.

Those words shouldn’t have had any effect on her. She had long since let go and moved on. Yet he had returned, his presence reverberating in her soul. Three months had passed; in one week, he would be promising his life to someone else.

She groaned. How was she going to make it through the week without imagining each step of his celebration? She desperately needed to shake him from her mind.

Instead, she tumbled down a trail of memories.

At last, her thoughts drifted to the business card stowed in her desk drawer. Would he answer if she called, or had he once again blocked her number — blocked her existence — from his life?

She stared into the night, knowing there was only one thing left to do.

~~~

He hurried past the receptionist, his hellos automatic and mindless. He barely glanced at the figure who rose from the loveseat nearest his office door.

He nearly tripped when his subconscious caught up with him.

He swiveled to face her with shock.

Her exquisite blue eyes returned his gaze. “Hey, Chris.”

Please visit Courtney on Facebook or Medium: 
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Kenneth Lawson: Rewind

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, and Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Rewind

Kenneth Lawson

The sound of a distant lawnmower woke him. He stretched as he untangled himself from the couch where he’d fallen asleep. A glance at his watch revealed it was well past noon.

Shaking the cobwebs from his brain, he sensed something was off—but what? Everything looked just as it always had. Even his favorite chair was where it should be, along with the coffee table he almost tripped over when he stood up. But it was different, and he couldn’t figure out why. 

Jason Kline inherited the small three-bedroom house from his parents, who bought it new, seven years after his father had returned from the war. Many families moved into the neighborhood at the same time his parents did. Jason and his brother had lived there since he was ten and Jeremy was seven years old. He knew everyone in the neighborhood.

Jason walked into the kitchen to get coffee and noticed the kitchen wall next to the hallway. It took him a second to realize what was missing and when he did, his heart raced. The marks were gone. As they grew up, their parents had marked their height on that wall. The marks, left as a fond memory, were gone and appeared freshly painted.

He muttered, “What the hell?” Jason went from room to room, tamping down panic, as he noted familiar items of his were missing and the antiques inherited from his family looked brand new. He needed air and fled out the front door, stopping in his tracks.

The porch swing hung from a rafter as it always had, but the chains were shiny, the white paint pristine, not worn as it should be. He stood still, listening to the sounds from the neighborhood—the laughter of small children, the sound of an old lawnmower, and barking dogs, not the sounds of his neighborhood where everyone was retired.

His breathing came in shallow gasps as he turned toward the street. Instead of a neat row of seventy-year-old-plus maple and oak trees shading a row of postwar cottages, he found the same houses with fresh paint, newly sowed lawns, and sapling trees staked for support.

The lawn he mowed yesterday was now a patchwork of grass and dirt. The smell of freshly cut lumber mixed with new construction sounds and the rumble of antique trucks passing by. Jason grabbed the arm of the swing and sat before he collapsed. This was the same house—just a younger version of it.

Across the street, children around five or six years old played in the yard. They were familiar, Julie and Tommy Burns. He had known them all his life. Two houses down, Mr. Rigby, looking no older than twenty-five, was mowing his yard. He had moved in before his family did, and his yard had grown lush. The sounds of hammers and men yelling drifted from down the street. A house he knew would fill with more friends.

He closed his eyes, repeatedly muttering, “Think. Think,” and tried to remember what he had done this morning before waking up and finding himself in his private twilight zone.

~~~

Jason Kline’s routine rarely varied. He woke up at precisely seven am, and by seven-thirty, he had gotten dressed and had a light breakfast and coffee. He would go for a walk at exactly eight am, turning right onto the sidewalk in his usual route. Jason ventured down the porch steps and looked to his right. Most mornings, Linda Clay was on her porch picking up the morning paper. She’d wave, and he would half-heartedly wave back. Linda’s house was there, but it lacked the flower garden she had tended for all those years. The bare wood picket fence looked stark against the grass trying to grow next to the newly poured concrete sidewalk. Jason found himself looking at the sidewalk as he walked down the street. Freshly poured and barely dry, the neat lines separating the blocks still showed trowel marks.

He stopped next to a maple tree, touched the trunk, then encircled the trunk with his fingers. He shouldn’t be able to wrap his arms around this tree. The cement block that anchored the sapling was pristine, but he knew years later that the abandoned block would exist as chunks of concrete nearly buried in the ground.

Jason looked down the street toward the house under construction—Lewis’s home. In a few years, he would meet them when he attended a neighborhood picnic and fell in love with their daughter April. 

Jason turned to face his house. It was the same but different. His parents moved into the house as newlyweds, raised him and his brother, and lived there until both died.

He turned and went back into the house. Nothing felt right. He wandered around the house until he passed a bookcase and spotted the family photo albums. Maybe they could shed some light on his predicament.

He returned to the living room where he noticed the large flat-screen TV was gone, and in its place was a large old-fashioned radio. What else? He laid the albums on the coffee table, sank onto the couch, and opened the top album.

For an hour, he flipped through the pages of the photo albums. Some pictures he remembered seeing all his life, but photos from most of his life were missing. He found a photo of the street and yard, taken from the front porch. Rushing outside, he compared the photo to the view in front of him. It was the same. The photo was dated April, the year he was ten years old.

A chill ran down his spine. What was going on? Why was his world suddenly back in nineteen fifty-two? Jason heard a noise behind him. Turning, he recognized a much younger version of Linda Clay, no more than twenty-one, walking up the street with a basket of flowers.

“Jay-Jay, why aren’t you at school?”

No one had called Jason “Jay-Jay” since he was a little kid. He shared his name with his father, and he was called Jay-Jay as a kid. 

Linda came up to him and handed him a bunch of flowers. “Give these to your mother, then go to school.”

Jason watched her walk down the sidewalk. He looked at his hands holding his mother’s favorite flowers, bluebells. They were the hands of an adult, yet Linda reacted to him as if he were ten-year-old Jay-Jay.

What was going on?

Shaking, he returned inside and shut the door behind him. He leaned against the door and closed his eyes, hoping that his world would return to normal when he opened them. The sound of construction filtered through the windows. He opened his eyes, but nothing had changed.

The flowers weighed heavy in his hand as he remembered how his mother’s face lit up when he brought her flowers. He sighed and went to the kitchen to put the flowers in a vase. He set the vase on the windowsill, overlooking the backyard. He saw the swing set he and his brother played on and he went outside.

~~~

Jason was unsure how much time passed as he sat on the swing—a brand-new set. His mom and dad loved to sit in the swing on the front step talking to neighbors as they passed by, but he and Jeremy loved their red swing set, especially the slide.

He tried to understand what he was experiencing, but he couldn’t get his head around any of it. The Linda he’d just talked to was not the Linda he’d seen yesterday on his morning walk. This Linda was young, pretty, and slender, not old, wrinkled, and slightly plump. 

He saw his image in the bathroom mirror when he wandered through the house. He was the same slightly bald man in his late sixties, not the skinny kid Linda saw. She was young again, but he wasn’t. Why? Did he look like a ten-year-old to everyone else? Was everyone else young again? Were the kids playing across the street the kids he grew up with? If they were young, why didn’t he look young to himself? Was everyone in the neighborhood experiencing what he was?

~~~

Hungry, he returned inside and rummaged in the retro-looking refrigerator for food. While nothing about his morning was funny, he laughed when he saw a package of bologna—his dad’s favorite. He made a bologna sandwich and sat at the kitchen table, thinking about what could have triggered this.

He finished his sandwich, put his plate in the sink, and went into the living room. He sat down on the couch where he had awoken to this nightmare. He needed to retrace his steps from the morning.

Everything was blank. He could only remember waking up from a nap on the couch. He picked up a photo album and leafed through it. He remembered something familiar in a photo, but what? He searched through the albums as tension rose in him. What had he seen?

Then Jason found the photo—a photo of his father. On his father’s wrist was the gold wristwatch that he wore today. He looked at his wrist. The watch wasn’t there.

He slammed his hand against his forehead. Remember, remember.

The watch … he took it off just before he lay down. The coffee table—he’d put it on the coffee table. Pushing the albums out of the way, he saw it. It looked brand new, shiny, not the patina of old gold that was the watch he wore every day.

Jason picked the watch up and racked his brain, trying to think what he had done. He had unfastened the watch and slipped it from his wrist. Then what? He wound it. It hadn’t been keeping good time, so he wound it. He remembered something his father once told him. Sometimes time had to reset itself. He never paid any attention to that phrase, but somehow, someway, time had reset itself to nineteen-fifty-two.

He stared at the watch. Maybe if he tried to wind the stem the opposite way, he would return himself to his time. His fingertips turned the stem in the opposite direction as he heard the front door open.

Jason looked up to see his father walking into the house. His heart skipped a beat. It had been years since he had seen his father.

“Hi, Jay-Jay.” His father smiled, and as he tossed his hat onto the couch, the room faded.

~~~

The late afternoon sun filtered through the large living room window as Jason woke. Disoriented, he sat upright. What a nightmare—he had been ten again, and the house was different. His father—he’d seen his father.

Then he realized he was holding something—a watch.

His father’s watch—a shiny gold watch.

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