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WRITE THE STORY! JULY 2022 PROMPT

Welcome to Write the Story!

June’s prompt brought a bevy of stories from romance to horror, and intrigue to kidnapping and all were excellent. For July, an antique box holding a strand of pearls is tempting the writer’s muse. Looking forward to the July 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 July 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! July 2022 Prompt

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by kropekk-pl 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 writing.

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Michele Sayre: The River and The Highway

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.

The River and The Highway

Michele Sayre

One year ago, Bryce Stewart stood on the flightline in Kandahar, Afghanistan watching the love of his life flying out of life yet again. In the year since he hadn’t stopped thinking about her but he hadn’t reached out to her either. Because in the ten years they’d known each other, each time they parted she said they were the river and the highway, destined to come together but not stay together.

He turned and walked up the next block in the historic neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee on this hot summer night. One big house in particular was lit up like Christmas with every light blazing and the noise of partying people spilling out of it. He started to turn away from the stupid antics but stopped mid-stride when he saw the love of his life, Christie Rogers, pulling a rolling suitcase behind her while wearing a hot-red dress.

She came to the gate and tried to open it but couldn’t seem to. He ran up to the gate. “Bryce?”

“In the flesh, sweetheart. Just give it a good lift and pull. Sometimes the humidity makes these old pieces of metal stick.”

She did what he told her and he stepped aside as she let the gate close behind her.

“Where are you going?” He asked as he tried not to stare at her bare shoulders and neck, and further down.

“Anywhere but here.” She took a deep breath then glanced back at the house. “I had to get out of there before I got tossed for wanting to knock a groomsman’s balls up into his throat.”

“I hate weddings because of that crap.” Bryce said.

“I was going to call an Uber and get a room somewhere. I’m leaving out for Fort Benning tomorrow.”

“Me, too. So why don’t you come stay with me? I’m staying at my sister’s place just around the block from here. Free room and room service, too.”

She looked up at him with big, wide eyes. “Are you sure? I mean-.”

“Look, I’m not trying to get in your pants or anything. Just offering a little Southern hospitality.”

Christie knew he was right on that. Bryce was the only guy she’d been involved with who hadn’t come on to her really hard at first. First, there had been respect from him, then kindness, then humor… then the best sex she’d ever had.

“Are you sure your sister won’t mind?”

“Nah, I’ve told her about you, so she’ll be happy to meet you finally.”

And when they started up the walk to a beautiful rambling old Victorian, the woman who stepped out onto the porch lit up when Bryce introduced her as his sister Carolyn along with Carolyn’s husband, John. She’d met John years ago when he’d served with Bryce in Afghanistan, so she was surprised to see him here.

She followed Carolyn inside and up the stairs to a bedroom that looked like something out of a dollhouse with its’ brass-railed bed and padded window seat.

“Help yourself to anything. There are fresh towels in the bathroom.”

“Thanks.” Christie put her suitcase on the bed and opened it. Then she looked over her shoulder at Carolyn, “Can you help me out of this dress?”

“Sure.” Carolyn came up behind her and start undoing the hooks. “This is a gorgeous dress.”

“It’s a bridesmaid’s dress actually.”

“What?”

“The bride wanted to piss her mother off so she sprung these on her at the last minute. I’ll never have cleavage like this again.”

Christie held the top of the dress while she pulled out a t-shirt and a pair of pajama pants out of her suitcase. She took them into the bathroom and changed then came out holding the dress so it wouldn’t wrinkle.

“I can hang that up for you.” Carolyn said as she went over to the closet and got a hanger.

“Thanks.” Christie handed the dress to Carolyn then went and got her bag with her cleaner and stuff. She kept the bathroom door open as she washed off her makeup then brushed out her hair.

“So, what has Bryce told you about me?”

“Not too much. He said you met back when you were with the Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan. I’ve read about them and I just want to say your work with them must have been an incredible experience.”

Christie stepped out of the bathroom. “It was. Exhilarating and terrifying at times. We were breaking rules by embedding with combat units and we couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing because of that.”

“Bryce spoke about out and your team with a lot of respect.”

“The guys were great with us. I remember meeting your husband then, too. How long have you known him?”

“We met a little over five years ago and have been married six months.”

“So, you two were apart for a long time.” Christie looked at Carolyn with new admiration. “How did you make it work?”

“We learned how to talk to each other, and then when he came home we put into practice. He also makes me very happy, and we accept each other as we are.”

Christie closed her suitcase then set it down beside the bed as Carolyn came over to her, “No one knows what the future will be, but I think if you’re with someone who truly cares about you, then you can make it work.”

Carolyn went over to the bedroom door, “If you need anything let me know, and if you get hungry just help yourself to anything in the kitchen.”

“Thank you. And it was great meeting you.”

“I honestly hope you and Bryce can work things out between you.”

Christie thought about that but there was one thought that came before that bit of hope: had too much time passed them by?

~~~

Bryce didn’t know what to say to Christie the next morning other than basic polite conversation. He had never asked for any kind of commitment from her or even an attempt at creating some kind of relationship with her so he had no idea how to now. On the first couple of hours of the drive she was pretty silent, texting back and forth with people that had been at the wedding the night before she told him.

Finally, she put her phone in her bag. “Sorry about that. I’m still trying not to be a referee for my parents but that’s all they want from me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. They were married for ten years and have been divorced for twenty but still fight every time they get together. I was only child so I was lost in their shuffle, so to speak. And then they didn’t me to join the Army and wouldn’t listen to anything I told them about it. Maybe that is what’s messed me up so badly. Then when I saw a ton of broken relationships in the Army… I just think I’m not cut out for any kind of relationship.”

He heard the pain in her voice and wished he could pull the car over and hold her but he didn’t think she was ready to accept the comfort he could offer her. In all their time together, they hadn’t talked about anything too personal. But since she’d opened here, he did, too.

“Carolyn and I grew up with warring parents, too.”

“But yours stayed together, right?”

Bryce just stared at the highway in front of him as he considered whether or not to say what always came to his mind about his parents. “They did but they were miserable with each other. My dad was a big-time businessman, and he wanted my mom to be the perfect Stepford-corporate wife and didn’t give a damn about what she wanted to do. I sometimes wished they’d divorced so Carolyn and I didn’t have to listen to their non-stop arguments.”

“Bryce…”

He shook his head because he didn’t want to think about his past. He pulled off the highway at the next exit and up to the gas pumps. He turned off the car then turned in his seat to face her.

“After you told me that ‘river and highway’ bit, I never asked for anything from you because I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t want you to think I’d turn into an asshole if we got together. But I’m going to Benning to get out of the Army- I’ve got my twenty years in. And I just want you to know that I’ll back your play whatever you decide to do in your life, with or without me.”

He got out of the car and went up to the pump. She got out just as he was putting the nozzle into the gas tank.

“You haven’t asked me why I’m going to Benning.”

“I figured that was your business and not mine.”

“I’m going to see if they’ll let me out on a good-conduct discharge, or not.”

He looked up at her in total shock. “Why?”

“I reported a colonel for sexual harassment and you know how the military justice system is about that. I’ve heard the colonel was trying to spread lies about me though my CO said he knew I told the truth.”

The nozzle clicked and Bryce removed it from the gas tank before turning to face Christie. “Look, no matter what happens I’ll be there for you.”

She said nothing to that, just got back in the car. And as he got in beside her and started the car up, he felt his heart break yet again with her.

 ~~~ 

Bryce pulled into another motel near the base just as the sun was starting to go down and wondered if they’d have to pitch a tent somewhere tonight. He got out along with Christie and they went into the slightly-dingy office.

“Do you have any rooms available?” Bryce asked the skinny clerk.

“Just one, with one bed.” The clerk leered at him.

Christie stepped up to the counter and set her credit card down. “We’ll take it.”

Bryce said nothing to that and let Christie pay for the room. He drove to the back end of the two-story motel and let them into the room. At least it was clean and didn’t smell, he told himself as he clicked on the lights.

“I’ll take the floor.” Bryce said as he set his bag down by the door.

“No, we can share the bed. It’s big enough for the two of us.”

“Christie…”

“Bryce.” She went up to him and put her hands on his shoulders. “We need to talk.”

He went over and sat down on the edge of the bed as she tried not to pace around the room. “I’ve been doing so much thinking I don’t know where to start.”

“What would you do if you left the Army?”

His question stopped her in surprise. “I… uh… I want to go to school and become a nurse-midwife. I went out on a few medical missions in Afghanistan and saw how needed midwives are.”

“You’d be great at that. Would you work abroad or here in the States?”

“I was thinking here, with low-income women. Do you think that makes me some kind of a do-gooder?”

Bryce stood up and came over to her. “No. You’re someone who really cares about people and you don’t do anything for attention.”

She felt tears sting her eyes as he kept speaking up for her, supporting her. “I’ve pushed you away so many times-.”

“No.” He put his hands on her shoulders, waited till she tilted her head back to look right up into his eyes. “You set a boundary and I tried to respect that.”

“Yet you’re here.”

“I meant what I said earlier. I’ll back you up no matter what happens.”

She knew he spoke the truth because his honesty, along with his kind heart and generous soul were what kept her coming back to him. Her feelings were so intense right now it was a huge struggle to speak. But she pushed through to say what mattered the most to her right at this moment: “More than anything, I just want to be with you.”

“I’m here.” He pulled her against him and held her tightly. She closed her eyes as tears slid down her face. He rubbed his hand up and down her back, holding her like no one else ever had in her life.

She lifted her head and looked up at him again. “I just feel scared still… about the future.”

“I understand. When I got back from Afghanistan my sister told me something: she said no one knows what the future will bring so all you can do is take it one day at a time. And she also told me a person can change their future, and not make the mistakes of the past. And most of all, we’re not our parents. We know better.”

“I like your sister.”

“I do, too.”

And with that, she laughed, the first time in longer than she could remember. Then she saw his face change to seriousness again.

“I meant what I told you earlier. I’ll be there for you no matter what happens tomorrow.”

“I could be just paranoid-.”

“Hey, I know how things can go sideways. Hopefully, they’ll just let you go with good paper.”

“I hope so, too.”

He let go of her, “Do you want to go get something to eat?”

She wrapped her arms around his neck then wound her hand around his neck, bringing his face down to hers. “Later.”

“Later?”

She kissed him slowly, waiting for him to respond. Which he did when he slid his arms around her and brought her up against his body.

“Been awhile since we slept in a bed that big.” He said as he picked her up then laid her down on the bed.

“I don’t remember us doing a lot of sleeping in beds.”

He laughed before he kissed her again. And for the rest of the night, they got lost in each other and didn’t think about tomorrow.

~~~

Bryce sat on a hard stone bench outside the building Christie was in. The sun beat down on him, but the southern heat didn’t bother him like it back in Iraq or Afghanistan, both places he’d been in with Christie. Last night had been awesome and had given him hope. But if things went sideways for her…

He heard the door open and stood up. Christie stepped outside and by the look on her face, she might have some good news for him. He met her halfway up the sidewalk.

“So, how did it go?”

“Pretty well. Can we sit outside? It was freezing-cold in there.”

He took her hand and led her over to the bench he’d been sitting on. He took her hands in his and felt the chill on her skin.

“First, they’re letting me separate on a ‘good conduct’ discharge with no issues.”

“That’s great!”

“But the colonel is being allowed to retire at full-rank. It’ll save me from having to testify against him-.”

“And have your name dragged through the mud.”

Christie nodded at that. She’d been prepared to defend herself and deal with torn-up reputation so she’d been spared that. But there was more, “But my CO told me the colonel’s wife just filed for divorce and since they’ve been married for twenty-two years she’ll get half his retirement.”

“Good for her.”

“And my CO said his wife is starting to talk about how awful he was to her and that I was just one of the women who had the guts to say ‘no’ to him.”

“So, he’s toast.”

Bryce stood up along with Christie and started walking with her back to his car. “It’s going to take a couple of days to out-process me with all the paperwork.”

“Me, too.”

“We still got the room.”

She stopped walking and came around to stand right in front of him. “Where are going after? I mean, where were you planning to go?”

“Back to Memphis to stay with my sister till I got a place of my own. She said you could stay too. She really liked meeting you and said she’d like to get to you know you better.”

He took her hand and led her back to his car, which was parked in the shade of a big old tree. There he pulled her into his arms for a long, slow kiss to seal the deal, wanting to savor the moment here.

He looked down into her beautiful blue eyes and spoke from the heart. “I love you. And I know if I had said this earlier-.”

“I wouldn’t have believed you. But then I didn’t really believe in myself till last night.”

He kissed her again then, “I know this is going to sound pretty cornball, but I just got to say it: the River and the Highway have come together.”

She threw back her head and laughed with total abandonment and joy. “I love it!” Then, as she looked into his eyes she said, “And I love you, too.”

The End

Please visit Michele on her website: https://michelesayre109315764.wordpress.com

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

Kenneth Lawson: The Treasure Box

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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The Treasure Box

Kenneth Lawson

Benny sat on his bed, head in hands, as a thought kept floating around in his head like a line from a song playing on auto-repeat. What if Carrie hadn’t died?

But she had, and he knew why and how. But what if she hadn’t? The what-if’s nagged at him until he decided he had to find out one way or the other.

Benny knew the truth. She died because she stood up for what was right. They killed her over the truth.

He slammed his hands into the mattress so violently he could feel the sharp springs. His anger grew as he replayed her death scene in his mind. 

He’d been powerless to stop them from killing her in the street, in broad daylight. There was nothing he could do. No one blinked at what happened. They were all brainwashed with the party line, and anyone who didn’t toe the official line was a target. She had not toed the line privately or publicly, and her efforts were getting results—results they didn’t like. She became not just a minor annoyance but a serious problem. Serious problems tended to disappear by design, and she was “disappeared,” but not before they made an example out of her.

Benny knew who had given the order to have her eliminated publicly, who ordered the State Guards to kill her and display her body as a trophy. As much as he wanted to kill the man responsible, that action would only cause more deaths, including his, so another solution had to be found.

Carrie’s last words to him before hell broke loose and they murdered her echoed in his mind. She said she would always remember her past, safely tucked inside her treasure box, the old wooden box of trinkets and keepsakes from a past life to which neither of them wished to return.

Benny had seen most of the bits and bobs in the box before—birthday cards, various pieces of jewelry, and several love letters he had written to her in another place and time. He couldn’t bear to look at them, but he knew he had to look through the items. He had to know what Carrie meant by her past was safe.

Carefully, he took everything from the box, laying the mementos of her life onto the bed one item at a time. He stared at the items. Nothing looked out of place or suspicious. Absently, he picked up the box and noticed something was off. The interior wasn’t as deep as it should be from the outside depth.

It looked as he remembered, scratched, its finish worn. He had teased her because she carried the box wherever she went. She would tuck it in an oversized purse or a backpack when they went camping. It was never far from her side, even in the house. Now it was all he had left of her, but something was wrong.

Suspecting a false compartment, Benny ran his fingertip along the sides of the bottom surface until he felt a barely perceptible difference in the edge. He pressed down, felt the surface spring pop loose, and gently pried open the false bottom. 

Inside was a single slip of paper—a note in Carrie’s small, neat handwriting dated years before.

Benny,

If you’re reading this, I am dead, likely murdered. I always knew it was possible but hoped you would never have to suffer through my death. 

You never knew the truth or scope of my work—now you must. The phone number I have included will put you in touch with someone who will explain everything. But you must not be overheard, so ensure you are alone.

Think carefully. If you call this number, your life will change, and you will be in grave danger. I understand if you choose to walk away. If you decide not to make the call, burn this letter and never think of it again.

Love always, Carrie.

Benny replaced the items, except for the note, back into the box exactly as he found them. For hours he sat on the edge of the bed, his mind reeling. 

Near midnight, under cover of darkness, Benny stood on a deserted street and made the call.

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

Lynn Miclea: Gold Butterfly

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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Gold Butterfly

Lynn Miclea

Katy lay on her side in the bed, breathing deeply, pretending to be asleep. Desperation clawed at her. She needed to get out. Tonight was the night.

She heard Joel’s footsteps approach, and she sensed him at the side of the bed checking on her. She kept her breathing deep and regular.

Apparently satisfied, Joel headed to the bathroom.

Katy didn’t move. It could be a test. If he thought she was pretending, he would make sure it was impossible to leave. She would never get out. If he got angry, he might not even let her live.

She heard the shower being turned on. Still, she didn’t move.

Finally, she heard the shower door close. She opened one eye. Nothing.

Pushing herself up slowly, she glanced around. The bathroom door was closed.

Now was probably the best chance she would ever have.

Trembling, her heart pounding in her chest, she got up, dressed as quickly as she could, and ran downstairs. She would only have a few minutes. This was the first time she had seen Joel leave the door key on the kitchen counter. He was usually not that careless, always keeping the key carefully hidden. Until tonight. And if she were caught, he would never be that careless again.

Taking the key, she carefully unlocked the cabin door, stepped out into the cold night air, and then closed the door quietly behind her. She held her breath and listened. She could still hear the shower in the bathroom upstairs.

Terrified and unsure, she froze for a few seconds, and then she ran.

Surrounded by trees, deep in the woods, she did not know which way to go. Having been brought there blindfolded a week earlier, she had no idea where she was. Joel had driven her to this area and then walked her along a dirt path to the cabin before removing the blindfold. She did not know where his car was or which way was the way out. She just knew she had to keep moving, and hopefully she would find a road or someone who could help.

Although it was hard to see in the dark, she rushed forward. A small amount of light from the half-moon filtered through the canopy of leaves above, but not much reached the ground. A few times, she tripped on roots or rocks in the dirt, but she caught herself and continued. She desperately needed to get far enough away that he wouldn’t find her. She hoped that was possible.

She knew without a doubt Joel would come looking for her once he found her gone. And if he found her, he would be enraged and would very likely kill her. Memories of his abuse over the past few days nudged at her mind, but she quickly pushed them aside. She had to stay focused.

After running and stumbling a few times, she stopped to catch her breath for a few minutes. Her fingers absently checked her pocket. Was it still there? Her fingers closed around a small gold butterfly, given to her by her Aunt May before she died. “Always believe in yourself,” her aunt had told her. “You are stronger than you think and you know what’s right for you.” Her aunt had placed the gold butterfly in her hand and closed her fingers around it. “I believe in you,” she had said. “You need to believe in you, too.”

Katy blinked back tears at the memory. She hoped the gold butterfly would give her strength and help keep her safe.

She resumed walking, being more careful now. A short time later, she heard a shout. Joel’s voice. “Katy? Where are you?” She gasped and then tried to calm down. She stayed still and silent. “I’m gonna find you, Katy. You won’t get away. You know that, right?”

She knew she had to move discreetly and quietly. She took a few steps and a twig under her foot snapped. She froze and listened. It did not seem like he heard it.

“Katy? Come on, you won’t survive out here at night. You’re gonna regret this. Where are you?”

His voice sounded farther away. Or maybe it was just her fear and she wasn’t hearing well. She was not sure. She waited a few minutes. After not hearing anything more, she continued walking, going slower and being more cautious.

After what seemed like a couple hours, she shivered, the cold air settling deeper into her. She rubbed her arms, trying to get warmer. Would she survive a night out in the cold? Where would she find shelter? There was no safety in the woods, and the night was definitely getting colder.

She kept moving. She wished someone could help her. But no one knew she was gone or where she was, so no one would even be looking for her.

She knew she had briefly mentioned to her friend Jennifer that she was seeing Joel this weekend and that she was not happy with how he was treating her and was considering breaking up with him. But she did not speak to her friend every day, so Jennifer might not even realize she was missing. And even if she did, she wouldn’t know where she had been taken. Katy didn’t even know where she was herself. She clearly was on her own.

Needing to warm up, she rubbed her arms again. She had no idea Joel was capable of anything like this. And she had no idea what to do. A sense of hopelessness settled in her chest and she wanted to cry.

Finally, shivering with the cold and exhaustion, she sat down at the base of a tree. Not even sure she would survive the night, she couldn’t stop the tears from falling as she stifled a sob. Had it been a mistake to leave? Would she have been safer to stay in the warm cabin in a soft bed?

Warmer, yes. Safer, no. Her life had ended when Joel had kidnapped her and brought her there by force. And then the abuse she had endured at his hands. She rubbed her cheek where he had slapped her earlier that afternoon. No, she had to get away, no matter what, even if she died trying.

Sounds of the woods filled the air. Strange sounds that spooked her. Scampering of tiny paws, buzzing of insects, rustling of leaves … she had no idea what was out there. She hoped she would make it through the night. But even if she did, then what? How would she get out?

She fingered the small gold butterfly in her pocket. Yes, she needed to believe in herself. She needed to believe that she would be okay.

After another hour, fatigue overtook her, and she lightly dozed on and off throughout the night. As the weak light of a dawning sunrise began to light up the area, she startled herself awake. She slowly stretched and then stood up, her body cold, stiff, and achy.

Looking around, she tried to get her bearings. The ground was level where she was, but it looked like it sloped downward a few yards farther away. As she carefully listened, she heard the sound of rushing water. A stream? A river? She wasn’t sure. But the sound gave her something to head toward.

After Katy walked a short distance, a swiftly flowing river became visible. She realized her mouth was exceedingly dry, and at least she could get some water to drink.

Stepping carefully, she eased her way down to the river. Being more exposed there, she knew she would need to be fast and then get back to the safety of the woods. After glancing around to make sure she was alone, she carefully bent forward, cupped some water in her hands, and sipped it. It was icy cold, but it refreshed her and gave her energy. She drank more and then gently washed her face with the frigid water.

Her nerves getting to her, she quickly moved back to where the trees gave her cover and more security, and she sat down against a tree to think. Should she follow the river? And if so, in which direction? Where was the way out?

The sound of rustling in the leaves behind her startled her, and she tensed. Was that Joel? Had he found her? Her heart pounded and terror flooded her body as she pulled her knees up, trying to make herself smaller and less of a target.

A metallic jingling sound reached her. What was that? She gasped and then remained silent and unmoving. A dog suddenly came into view — a beautiful, silky, golden retriever stood in front of her, wagging its tail. It barked once and then sat down in front of her. As she stared at the dog, wondering where it came from, two men appeared behind the dog. “Good dog, Bailey,” one of the men called out.

The other man looked at Katy. “Are you Katy?”

She nodded. “Yes.” Her voice sounded hoarse.

“Good. We’ve been looking for you. I’m Kent, and this is Brad. We’ve had a search party scouring the area for the past two days.” He gestured at her. “Are you okay? Are you injured?”

“I’m okay. Just cold, exhausted, and hungry.” She slowly stood up, realizing she also was weak. “How did you know to look for me? Or where to find me?”

“Your friend Jennifer reported you missing, and she gave us enough information that we researched your boyfriend, discovered a cabin belonging to his family, and suspected you might be in this area. We are a volunteer search team working with the sheriff’s office. Bailey here,” he added, gesturing at the dog, “is well trained and effective at finding missing people.”

Katy nodded. “But my boyfriend Joel … he …”

“The deputy sheriffs are up at the cabin right now looking for him.”

“Joel might be out trying to find me.” She glanced around at the woods. “I snuck out of the cabin last night.” She shuddered as she thought about it.

Kent glanced around and then took a few steps closer. “Let’s get you out of here. Can you walk okay?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Good. Follow me. Stay close.”

Katy followed Kent, while Brad and Bailey brought up the rear, Brad keeping watch behind her. She began to feel safer and couldn’t wait to get out of the woods. Maybe she would be safe after all.

“There you are!” Joel’s booming voice cut through the air. “She’s coming with me,” he yelled, coming toward them, a large pipe in his hands, which he jabbed in the air threateningly.

Kent raised his arms in a calming gesture. “Hey, put the pipe down, we just want to talk.”

“No talk. She’s my girl, and she’s coming back with me.”

Katy whimpered, shook her head, and took a few steps back.

“Come on,” Kent continued. “Just put it down.”

“No!” Joel switched the pipe to his left hand and hastily raised a weapon with his right hand. He waved it back and forth toward the group.

Bailey growled.

“Down, Bailey,” Brad said to the dog.

Kent stepped farther away from the group. “Hey, no need for weapons. We just want to talk.”

Joel seemed determined. “Katy, come here,” he demanded.

Katy shook her head. “No, Joel. I’m not going anywhere with you.”

Joel stepped forward aggressively, aiming the gun at Katy.

Bailey gave one loud bark.

Joel turned his attention to the dog, his weapon beginning to move toward the dog.

Kent, now a few steps closer to Joel, tossed a rock at Joel. Joel lurched and stepped back. His hand came up, the gun fired, and Katy shrieked.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Kent dove at Joel, tackling him to the ground. They wrestled for a couple of minutes, and then Kent pinned him to the ground. He twisted Joel’s hand, causing Joel to grunt and loosen his grip on the gun. Kent grabbed Joel’s gun and tossed it out of reach.

Brad got out his radio and called the deputy sheriffs. “We got them — we have both Joel and Katy. But we need some help here. Katy is safe and Joel is restrained. He was armed.” He gave coordinates and then clicked off. He turned to his partner. “They’re on the way.” He then looked around. “Anyone hurt? Where did that bullet go?”

Terror and shock ran through Katy. Shaking, she glanced around. Then she noticed a red streak on her left arm and she gasped, her eyes widening as she stared at it. “I … I …”

Brad peered at her arm. “Yep, the bullet grazed your arm. It’s not deep, but it should get cleaned and looked at.”

Katy nodded numbly as she looked at her arm and then stared at Joel pinned underneath Kent. He had shot her! How could she have ever dated him at all? Horror gripped her as she realized how close that was and how much worse it easily could have been.

She turned to Brad. “He would have killed me.”

Brad nodded. “That is very likely. I’m really glad you’re okay.” He gestured at his partner. “Kent here is the best partner. He’s ex-military and knows what he’s doing. I’m very grateful he’s on our side and one of the good guys. This definitely could have been a lot worse.” He looked up at the sound of voices and movement. “Good. Here are the deputy sheriffs.”

The taller of the two deputy sheriffs immediately went to Kent and Joel. The deputy sheriff took out handcuffs and slapped them on Joel’s wrists. “Do you have any other weapons on you?” he asked Joel.

“None of your business,” Joel responded.

The deputy sheriff went through Joel’s pockets, carefully removing a switchblade knife. He dropped it into a plastic bag his shorter partner was holding out toward him. He then brought Joel to a standing position. “What were you trying to do here?”

Joel remained quiet.

The shorter officer and the rescue crew spoke quietly among themselves for a few minutes, and Katy glanced at them and then stared at her injured arm, unable to say a word.

The taller officer held onto Joel while the shorter one approached Katy. “We will need to get a statement from you and ask you a few questions. Can you come down to the station?”

“Yes, sure.” She had many questions to ask them, but couldn’t yet form the words.

“Good. Then we’ll get that arm looked at and taken care of.” He turned to his partner. “Let’s pick up that gun over there, look for the bullet, and then we need to close off this entire area. Let’s get it all roped off — this is now a crime scene.” He radioed dispatch, and then the two deputy sheriffs walked Joel through the woods toward their vehicle as the taller one read Joel his rights.

“Come on,” Kent said to Katy. “Let’s get you out of here.”

Feeling shaky and woozy, Katy walked with Kent and Brad through the woods toward their vehicle. Thoughts swirled in her head, overwhelming her. What had happened? She couldn’t quite grasp it. Looking at the blood on her arm, she felt dizzy and her legs got wobbly and slowly gave out. A nauseating weakness overtook her as everything turned black.

A short time later, she woke up, groggy and confused. Where was she? Suddenly she remembered and her eyes flew open. “Joel!”

Brad was wrapping a bandage around her arm. “Hey, you’re awake. Good. Don’t worry, you’re safe.” Brad watched her as she sat up in the back seat of their vehicle. “You feeling okay?”

Katy nodded. “Yes, just a bit weak. I’m sorry.”

He handed her a bottle of water. “Nothing to apologize for. I cleaned the wound and you’re all bandaged up. But I’d like to get you to a hospital to be checked over and make sure everything is good.”

“Okay.” She sipped the water and then looked up at Brad. “And Joel?”

“He’s in custody at the sheriff’s office, with multiple charges pending.”

Katy let out a long, slow breath. “Thank you.” She let Brad secure the seatbelt around her. Bailey was buckled into the seat next to her, and he wagged his tail when she looked at him.

Brad then climbed into the front passenger seat and Kent started the vehicle and pulled out of the parking area.

As the vehicle moved forward, Katy swallowed hard. She was finally free of him. Memories of the past week flooded her, increasing her anxiety, as her arm throbbed. She pushed those thoughts aside and tried to relax.

She vowed to trust her instincts about people from now on. She was grateful Jennifer had called authorities. Her friend had warned her about Joel, but she didn’t listen. She needed to listen to her friend more and trust her as well as herself. And it would be a while before she dated anyone again.

She slowly played with the small gold butterfly in her pocket. “Thank you, Aunt May,” she whispered. “Yes, I will believe in myself.”

She leaned her head back against the headrest, closed her eyes, and sighed. It would take a while to recover, but she was finally safe. And free.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2022 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/

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

And please visit her Amazon author page at – https://www.amazon.com/Lynn-Miclea/e/B00SIA8AW4

Anita Wu: Confession

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.

Confession

Anita Wu

“Can I tell you something?” She looked at the drink she held in her hand, refusing to bring her gaze to me.

I gently closed my book and placed it on the picnic blanket, gesturing for her to sit next to me so that we could face the scenic river before us. She placed her cup beside my book and settled next to me, but I was aware of the space she left between us. She still refused to look at me, so I laid my hand on my knee, palm facing upwards as though to tell her that I was listening and to give her the choice to reach out.

“What’s up, Sara?” I prompted her. I watched as she glanced around, opening and closing her mouth as though she did not know how to speak. “You can tell me anything.”

“I’m not human,” she whispered, still looking away. As though in affirmation, a bird cawed above us.

But her existence told me otherwise. Her eyes sparkled when she glimpsed the beauty of a whale during our trip out to sea, and her laugh echoed through the caves we wandered in darkness. Her body danced as we made our way through various cities and met countless personalities who fell in love with her just as I had. Even now, I saw the nervousness in her lowered head, her hair at mercy of the wind, and she sat beside me in form.

“To be human is to live,” I told my fiancée, our wedding a mere month away. She looked me in the eyes then, and I saw the glimmer of tears in her golden irises.

Sara claimed she was a Siren, banished from the ocean and forced to flee to land. Her condition for return was to bring someone to endure her punishment on her behalf.

“Were you going to sacrifice me, then?” I asked, knowing I would easily agree to be blindfolded by her for a surprise and just as easily be caught and shipped off into the ocean, never to appear before my family again.

“No, no!” she shouted, repeated, grabbing my hand, then said, “That has passed. I already…”

She trailed off and lowered her head once more. “Already what, Sara?”

She spun me a tale. Years ago, she had made friends, spent months in their company, and trusted them enough to tell them the truth; for Sirens, to them and to me, did not exist. Sirens, werewolves, and vampires were things of myth, stories told through the generations for entertainment. Scientifically, they did not exist.

“But we would never reveal ourselves. Humans would hunt and trap us. We would be used for experiments or trophies. Tell me: would you want to be stabbed with toxins for the curiosity of others who have no care for the value of your life and only for the fact that you remained breathing and scientifically ‘alive’?”

Her friends’ response to her secret was to splash a glass of water in her face, to test the myth that she would turn to a fish once she came in contact with water. They were at a restaurant, and everyone in their area paused their dinners to stare at her. They laughed at her, alcohol making them slur their words and stumble in their steps.

“I don’t know why I did it. But I felt wronged—for my entire people. So I took them here.” She gestured at the raging river before us, the cliff rising to heights in the distance, the trees swaying in the wind, and the seldom travelled road behind us. “I dove into the water here, and I showed them my tail. I proved to them that I existed.”

They screamed at her — a freak or monster — and they threw stones at her before running away. One of her friends came back, and she could never forget him because he held a glimmer in his eyes, a grin on his lips, and a rifle in his hands.

“That’s the scar on my arm.” She brought her hand to grip her arm, covering the scar that I had always asked her about but that she would never feel comfortable sharing.

“Why now?” I asked, unsure how to respond at being flooded with this—information that should not make sense yet explained so many things of the past. Sara loved the ocean and all bodies of water, but she refused to go into them. She claimed that she didn’t know how to swim and that she had a traumatic experience as a child of being in the water, forcing her to avoid even wading in and enjoying the cool waters. “Why did you not just leave me in the dark forever?”

Sara looked away again.

“My people pitied me after that incident. They lifted my punishment and allowed me back home.”

“I’ve heard enough stories to know that a but is coming.” I gave her a sad smile and squeezed her hand.

“I must wed a Siren when the time comes.”

“And I am certainly not a Siren.”

She smiled, then frowned.

“So tell me, darling, am I not mad because your voice can soothe my emotions? Or am I just too heartbroken to feel anything right now?”

She kissed me then. “Do you want to be a Siren?”

Please visit Anita on her website: https://soreispeaks.wordpress.com/

Calliope Njo: Action and Consequence

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.

Action and Consequence

Calliope Njo

I opened my mirror to be sure everything was perfect, not that I ever had anything to worry about. I was born perfect. Anyway, I had to check out the rumor that new people were arriving. In my territory. How dare they? Didn’t they know they needed my permission? I could kill the principal for allowing this. No matter, I’d get to that later.

Oh, that must be them. Both were rather tall. Maybe even taller than me, which, of course, was impossible. Hairstyle was loose and layered, which was so yesterday. They wore a black and white pinstriped shirt dress with Greek sandals. Only I could pull off that look. How dare they copy me?

An old lady was with them when they walked away from the Administration Building. So the rumor must be true. That might pose a threat to my existence.

Why should I even worry? Although I still needed to inspect them. Since they didn’t pass, they needed to be eliminated on a permanent basis. Yes, it had to be so. Yes, indeed.

I slept through the entire morning as usual and didn’t miss a thing. With a few well-placed brainiacs in the room, I had it under control. The teachers never knew. Even if they did, there was nothing they could do about it. My parents supplied them with the funds they needed for whatever they needed. If I got expelled, there goes their funding and it would be their fault and not mine.

The sweet Little Miss Princess over there. Too golden-haired, too short, and too popular. Why did she have to be here? She would ruin everything. With her around, my brilliant plan to get rid of the newcomers would fail. I. Never. Fail.

The last three-day holiday was right around the corner. A perfect opportunity to get rid of them. Somebody always died for one reason or another. They would be the ones to appear on the morning news. Three teens drowned to death in big and bold black letters. I would get so much attention for eliminating them. Everybody would be so thankful.

On my way out the door the next morning, mother dearest called me. She too needed to die, but that would be much later. After graduation sounded good.

Mother approached me. “Oh, Estelle dear. I will be there to pick you up. I will bring along with me a change of clothes so you can change in the car. There is a very important woman I need to meet. Yes, I expect you to be there. Do not keep me waiting.”

“But Mother. Not even a little?” I pouted. Someone is important if I said they were important.

“Do you expect me to believe this act about you being sweet and innocent?” She laughed. “You have privileges only because your father insists on it. In case a plan emerges into your rodent sized head about getting rid of us, always remember, your father and I are ten steps ahead of you. Three o’clock at the front gates. If you’re late, there will be consequences. Understood?”

“But Mommy…” I pouted again. She had to fall at some point.

She walked up to me, standing face to face. “Am I understood?”

“Fine. Three o’clock then. Ta ta, Mother dearest.” You will be eliminated earlier than planned. You are the one with the rodent-sized brain.

She turned around and left.

I went to school and continued to sleep until lunch. There was a quiz in that boring class that talked about nonexistent people. What was it? Some sort of history or something. The brainiacs took care of that for me. I expected to get an A average for graduation. Nothing less would do.

The real competition would be God himself. Oh, and Little Miss Angel came into the cafeteria at last. I needed to stretch my legs. She stepped over them.

One of the old lady watchers came to me. “You really shouldn’t do that. You could trip someone. On purpose or not really doesn’t matter.” The hag left.

The bell rang, and I had other classes to sleep through.

The last bell rang, and Mother Dearest was supposed to pick me up. I would tell her that—

“Let’s go,” Mother said. “Now.”

I turned around and stood there. She would not tell me what to do. I didn’t need to follow the rules. They were below me. I needed to inspect my nails.

She left me alone. Perfect. On my way to find out what that waste of oxygen was up to, one of our minions picked me up.

Once I was put down, I had something to say. “You will be eliminated, you old hag.”

“Is that all? I thought you would be more original by now. You’ve been saying the same thing for years. One grows rather bored with hearing the same thing time after time. Get in the car.”

Of course, I didn’t move unless I needed to. The next thing I knew, she pushed me into the car. I picked up the phone to dial… what was that number again? It started with a nine or something.

“In case you didn’t know, the number would be to your father. Get dressed. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“I refuse to follow you.”

“I suggest you do get dressed.”

“Mother, you are the one that needs a miracle. I have always been positively perfect.”

“You do need a miracle if you expect to graduate this year. You really can’t get any lower than straight Fs. So yes, you need to get dressed. This would be your last chance.”

“I think you’re confused with somebody else. I am so intelligent. They don’t have a score any more perfect than an A. Are you really getting that old?”

“Are you really that stupid? I get daily reports about your performance. All of them tell the same thing. The only reason you’re still enrolled is because it isn’t the last day yet. Then you will find out what your destiny holds. I really do suggest you put those pants on.”

How could she know? Nobody was supposed to know. I’ll blow up the entire school for defying their leader.

We continued up the road alongside a river. That wouldn’t be the one that led to Mirror Lake, would it? What a perfect spot. This trip might turn out to be worthwhile after all.

The minion helped Mother out of the car, but not me. Too bad the minion left before I could get rid of the nuisance.

“Arabella, thank you for meeting me,” Mother said, as she left me.

“These are my twin daughters, Seren and Vesper. Girls, why don’t you stay here and socialize while we talk. Be back in one hour.”

“All right,” one of them said. “Meggie will be here too.”

“Fine. Fine,” Arabella said. “Just be back in one hour.”

The adults walked away, which left me with these two. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to end my misery. The green rocks and clear rushing water would provide the perfect area to make it all seem like an accident.

That couldn’t be her. That was Meggie. The sweet Little Miss Princess who I’ve been trying to get rid of. That was her? Well, then all my dreams and wishes would come true.

“Sorry. So sorry.” She came closer. “Vesper and Seren.” She hugged them both. “It’s been a while since we spent any time together. It’s good we’ll be in the same school again. How’ve you been?”

I tuned out the rest of the conversation. It was so stupid. Why would I even bother?

I went over to the board with the layout of the property on it. Up the hill was where it should be done. No body has ever been recovered.

Maybe if I pretended to trip, I could push all of them into the water. They would drown and die. I would be happy. That plan was so brilliant. It couldn’t be more brilliant.

“You know what would be fantastic,” I said, as I tried not to throw up. “What would be so super fantastic would be a picture by the water here.”

“Yeah. OK.” Meggie walked over. “We could take a selfie and exchange it.”

I made sure to get in the middle. I had enough arm’s length to pull all of them in. We got by the water’s edge and I pulled them in. I grabbed onto a branch at the last minute so I wouldn’t fall in. I thought my luck ran out when the patrol came by.

Of course, they would only bring validity to my story. “Oh, you have to help us. You have to. They’ll drown.”

One of them got on the radio and said a bunch of things to someone else. A man in uniform turned toward me. “Don’t worry. We’ll get them at the bottom. It’s calm now. It doesn’t really flow like it does at the beginning of spring. They’ll be OK. They may be a little cold, though.”

“Oh. Thank you. Thank you for your help.” It was a beautiful plan to get rid of them. Why couldn’t they die?

About that time, that old woman and Mother came back. “The ranger came to get us,” Arabella said. “The girls are expert swimmers, so this wouldn’t have been a problem for them.”

Mother walked to me step by step with a smile on her face. “It is lucky for you they did not die as you had planned.”

I looked at her, shocked she knew.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t know? Now I know you’re stupid.” She walked away.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Maybe if I pretended to faint. I smiled when I heard someone call for help.

Someone put something under my nose. Ew. Get that away from me. The only thing I should smell is the most expensive perfume made for me. “What—”

“You can open your eyes now,” Mother said. “Everybody’s gone. Get up and get in the car. That is, unless you want to walk all the way. The choice is yours.” Mother walked away from me. I hated it. I should be able to wish everybody was gone. Why couldn’t people die? Nobody else was as superior as me.

I got in the car all right. Mother sat there playing with her device. She turned it off and turned towards me. “Your plan to drown the girls failed. All of them survived. Next time you plan to drown someone, double-check a few facts first. They were trained in water rescue.”

It didn’t matter.

“Right now, however, we will meet your father at his office. From there, we will meet with the girls again. However, I can’t guarantee how well you will be received. Especially after what you pulled.”

They better have what I demand. The food must be of the most excellent quality. I deserve nothing less.

We parked underground with everybody else. Did I look like everybody else?

“Get out of the car or you will be pulled out of the car. It won’t be me that would be embarrassed.”

Hmph. As if. I raised my nose at her and got out of the car. I turned my back on her.

I heard her walk away. From me. How dare she? She was my minion. She was supposed to ask me for permission. Grrr. How rude.

“Charles pushed the elevator button already, Estelle. You better run.”

I stood there and waited. When those doors close, I could go back home and find someone to eliminate those three.

The elevator doors opened, they stepped inside, and the doors closed.

Perfect. I turned around and left the building. Wait. Why are the gates closed? They were not supposed to be closed.

I walked up to the guard and knocked on his window.

“Yeah?” He turned towards me. “What do you need?”

“Can’t you see I need to leave?”

He laughed. “This entry is for automobiles only. The entry and exit for people would be back in the direction you came. Turn right and follow the exit signs.”

“Why do I have to walk all the way back? Can’t you see me? Didn’t I tell you I need to leave? Are you that stupid?”

He raised his eyebrow at me. Too bad I didn’t have any of my minions to eliminate him.

“I only work here, ma’am. I cannot let you go through this gate. Those are the rules. I’m only here until a new unit gets installed in a couple of days. Then everything will be electronic. In the meantime, turn around and walk all the way until you get to the exit sign. Big, huge red letters. Can’t miss it. Follow the arrow to turn right. You will come to a door. Open the door and you can walk through. OK?”

I turned my back on him. He was the one that was rude. I had to walk all the way back from where I came. Why doesn’t anyone know how important I am? Why is it I had to follow the rules?

“It’s about time,” Mother said as she leaned against the wall. “You better move before your father gets down here. He hasn’t had a good morning.”

I stood so close I could see all that trashy makeup she insisted on wearing. “Why is it I have to follow the rules when I don’t believe I have to?”

The elevator door dinged and out stepped Father. He grabbed my arm and pulled me inside. When the elevator stopped, the doors opened, and he pulled me all the way into his office.

My hired brainiacs stood in the office along with those other girls I tried to drown. All of them looked at me.

Meggie stepped forward. “In case you don’t recognize anyone here, my name is Megan van Middleburg. Only a select group of people can call me Meggie. These four people here are the ones you copy from. You will hear from them later. Vesper and Seren are newcomers whom you also pulled into the water along with myself. Their mother is also the head of the school board committee. Lucky for you, we know how to swim, use our brains, and therefore could rescue ourselves from the river.”

A bald old man in a cheap gray suit stepped out. “I’m Mr. van Middleburg. Your school principal. We were supposed to meet first thing in the morn. I thought it best to confront the one who tried to hurt these girls. I am also here to inform you that you will not be graduating this year. As a matter of fact, we have expelled you. What that means is you can no longer attend Angel’s Academy for Girls. The board and I feel your actions are inexcusable. Your parents and I have discussed this at length. They will talk it over with you when we are done here.” He turned his head. “Come along, Meggie. It’s time for us to go.”

Megan stepped out and walked by the old man. They left the office. The other girls stood there and crossed their arms over their chests.

Father turned towards all of them. “Girls, could you do me a favor? I’ll call you later to confront Estelle about what she’s done. Meanwhile, the three of us need to talk. OK?”

The Newcomers and the Brainiacs left the office. They closed the door so it wouldn’t make a sound. Ha! The only thing that mattered was that everybody that didn’t matter left. It. Was. About Damn. Time. “Now that—”

Mother grabbed my shoulders and pushed me into a chair. “Sit there.” She turned around towards Father. “Now, do you see how she is?”

“I am sorry, sweetheart. She was my daughter and this old man wanted to believe. Forgive me this?” He held out his arms.

“Oh. All right. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about this. Is the doctor ready?”

“Wait, a minute. What—” I stood.

“You will sit down and keep your trap shut. Do you hear me?” I couldn’t believe Father yelled at me. How dare he?

“I don’t have to do what anybody says. I’m leaving.” I stood up from the chair.

Mother got in front of me. “You leave? Fine. You get in trouble? We won’t bail you out. You turn homeless? Oh well. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, if you get sick, there might be a free clinic that might have a qualified doctor.”

“Rules are for everybody else, not me.” I stomped my foot. “I don’t have to do what anybody else says. If something goes wrong, it’s all your fault and not mine.”

“You will stop screaming,” Father said. “And Dr. Osbert is waiting.” He came towards me and stood on the other side of me. “Eins. Zwei. Drei.” He nodded.

“Hup,” Mother said, as they picked me up. I tried to kick them but it didn’t work. They handed me off to their minion.

“Charles, would you take her down to Dr. Osbert for us, please?” Mother asked. “We would appreciate it.”

“Of course,” he said, as he bowed. He picked me up and put me over his shoulder. He laughed. “You think you can hurt me? My nephew kicks harder than you. And he’s three. Oh, and thanks for massaging my back.” He kept laughing.

Someone parked a small white thing with four wheels in front of the elevator. The minion put me inside. “Here she is, doctor. She’s all yours.”

“Thank you. I will take care of her from here.” The door closed.

I screamed and kicked him.

“We will go somewhere to work out why you feel the way you do.”

“This is kidnapping.”

“You can scream all you like. I don’t mind. Your parents signed you over to me already. So I suggest you sit back and enjoy the ride.”

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

D. A. Ratliff: Why My Muse Loves Jazz

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

Why My Muse Loves Jazz

D. A. Ratliff

If you have read my writing, you know I generally set my stories and novels in the southern region of the United States. That is understandable because I grew up in South Carolina and live in Florida. A piece of writing advice says to ‘write what you know,” and I know the South. I can’t entirely agree with that particular advice because we can write about anything with a bit of solid research. Thank you, Google. But our life experiences certainly influence what we put on paper.

Speaking to a friend, we discussed how life impacts writing, and I stated that I do not consciously put my life experiences into my work. I no doubt subconsciously do. My attitudes toward good and evil and how characters (people) should behave can’t help but influence my writing as it does anyone. I generally do not pattern any character after someone I know, although I have done so occasionally.

In thinking back on that conversation, I wondered what my influences were. What creates the mood of my writing? I realized that there are two influences. One is my childhood memories of growing up in the South, and the other is music.

While I was fortunate to enjoy a somewhat idyllic childhood, I am not naïve enough to ignore the issues that faced my “hundred-acre woods” (thank you, Winnie, the Pooh) or the rest of the country and the world. Equality is never easy to obtain and inequality difficult to witness, and that alone will influence us, consciously or not.

My parents provided a haven for me and a feeling of security, and I realize how fortunate I am for that environment. They never hid the realities of the world from me, but the gentility that existed was also a part of my life. When writing, I attempt to show the area’s complexity because the truth is always best.

My environment, however, was not the only influence on me. I believe that growing up in the South served as the platform for what is truly my muse. Music.

I grew up listening to classical music more than any other music genre. My father often had classical music on in the car or at home. Still, my parents were huge fans of music in general, so the sounds of my early childhood included Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra.

I was a typical kid, I loved Elvis and the Beatles, but I was also the preteen who loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and asked for their albums for Christmas. Music was and remains an integral part of my life, and I realize a considerable influence on my writing.

For music lovers, every type of music becomes part of the threads woven to create our personalities. My memories of the spirituals I listened to as a child or the blues music that developed from various influences after the Civil War to jazz that grew from the blues and ragtime in New Orleans have influenced me greatly.

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

Jazz. I am not sure how one can define jazz. In an opinion article written by Josiah Boornazian, the author states:

“Jazz encourages, celebrates, and rewards newness, originality, personality, and meaningful expressiveness in music. Jazz never stopped evolving.”

This observation about jazz mimics writing. Doesn’t writing do the same, encourage, celebrate, and provide the same rewards?

When I was a child, my parents had a family friend, Mr. Price, whose mother was from Louisiana and who I wrote about in a previous article. His stories of his mother’s life in Louisiana and the Cajun meals he prepared for us on some Sundays greatly influenced me. I loved the stories and the food, and as I grew up, my affection for the area never waned but became a love for New Orleans and jazz.

When I started my first mystery novel, I never hesitated to set the story in New Orleans. I visited there a few times and felt a kinship with the French Quarter, more so than with my hometown in South Carolina.

As I wrote, I felt the ambiance of the French Quarter. The colorful residents, the awed tourists, the neon, and the art and Voodou shops all mingled with the smells of spicy food, beer, incense, and, well… some other aromas, but all part of the fabric of the Quarter.

However, one component of the ambiance was the sound of jazz. Walk along the narrow streets and listen as the music waxes and wanes from one club to the next—some joyous, some melancholy, and all reaching into your soul. There is a rhythm to life, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the jazz-filled French Quarter.

When I write, those beautiful spirituals from my early days to today’s jazz are my muse. The music spurs my creativity. The connection to the life force, the vibe, if you will, from the places that create that music, hopefully, keeps me evolving as a writer.

Whatever your music tastes, play some tunes while you write. If I may suggest, play a little Bossa Nova for enchantment and romance, a little Buddy Rich for the zest of life, a little Miles Davis for the soul, and let your muse play.

Images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by D. A. Ratliff.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/ and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thecoastalquill

And look for her mystery novel, Crescent City Lies, coming soon!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Resources:

https://www.learnjazzstandards.com/blog/all-about-jazz/jazz-opinion-blog/whats-true-meaning-behind-jazz-music/

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

Michele Sayre: Behind the Story – A Book In Search of a Title

Please Visit Michele Sayre’s Website for More Articles and Stories

Around Fall/Winter 2018 if my memory is correct, I came up with the idea of doing a ‘writing book’. At the time I thought it would be a mix of writing instruction and advice with maybe a few stories of my writing time over the years. Then this thought came to me: my relationship with writing is complicated. I thought that would be the hook to make this book stand out but in reality, that’s been a huge wall I’ve had to figure out how to get through. One way I’ve had to figure out how to work through that wall is finding a title for this project. It’s gone through at least two or three titles but ‘Behind the Story’ feels like the fit that I want for it.

But in order to get a handle on this project, I needed a title I could write to. I need titles to write to so when I’m struggling with a title then I struggle with the project itself. So the first thing you can see about writing for me is that my brain works in weird and mysterious ways. Putting that crazy thought process into words is a challenge, to say the least, but it’s one I want to do.

For me, writing is largely instinctive now. I just start out with an idea in my head then sit down and start writing. I trust myself to know when something is working and when it’s not. Like this blog entry here for example has been in the works for a couple of days now with several attempts scrapped. I’m not doing this project to discourage people from writing, or showing off, but instead, I’m trying to put into words a process that I don’t really think through before I dive into it.

In my teens and twenties, and even into my thirties, I devoured everything I could about writing. I read a ton of articles and books, attended workshops and conferences, and studied constantly. Back then I felt like I had to earn my chops by working my ass off studying and writing. I’m glad I did that but it wasn’t a popular decision with some people in my life. In those years I felt like my writing was seen a weapon to be used against me, something to be held against me, something I felt wrong in doing sometimes. It’s taken me a long time to realize that people were wrong to think that about my writing as I NEVER let it get in the way of any responsibilities I had taken on. In those years, I was just told to keep my mouth shut and keep writing.

To anyone who has a problem with my writing, or ever did I’m going to say what I should have said a long time ago: fuck off. Take your stupid bullshit and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. I fought with everything I had to keep my passion to myself and for no damn good reason other than placate someone’s dumb-ass ego.

Like my other writing projects, I’m not writing this book as an act of revenge or any bullshit like that. In addition to trying to illuminate the creative process to help people understand it, I’m also doing it for other creative people like me who’ve taken way too much shit for being creative. I don’t believe every single person has it in them to be creative and curious. In fact, I think there are a good number of people in this world who are the total opposite of that and who sure as hell aren’t shy in expressing that to the rest of the world.

For the longest time, I used to say I just let my imagination run wild and that it was not a reflection of my own thoughts and feelings. But that’s not true and it never was, and that’s another thing I’m trying to put into words with this project. And that I believe is also another reason some people may have had problems with my writing because they somehow thought it was about them. It’s not and it never was. But that barrier had to fall in my mind for me to get to the point I’m at now with my writing, this mix of instinct and the ability to put those instincts into words.