Tag Archives: fiction

Jane Hale – Bucket Full of Dreams

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

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Bucket Full of Dreams

By Jane Hale

Remember when we were kids and wore our bathing suits to feed the horses so we could go swimming at the creek when we were finished?

Living on adjoining farms, you rode over to my farm to get away from a house full of sisters. I was an only child and happy to have a make-believe brother. You loved to draw. I loved to make up stories. Together we produced some children’s illustrated story books. Your oldest sister sent them to a publishing house. Our series “Bronco’s Bucket List,” written while we were horsing around, became a five-star winner on Amazon.

I close my eyes and see two kids lounging on the bank of the creek. You are wearing Mighty Mouse boxers. I’m sporting my pink teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini. We dreamed big dreams. We wrote our own bucket lists. I wonder what ever happened to the list?

In a happy-ever-after world, our relationship might have become more than make-believe brother and sister. In the real world my parents died in a plane crash on their way to my graduation from MSU with a degree in journalism.

Your family attended my parents’ funerals. You rode over to my farm later after everyone left. You helped me grieve as we visited the barn, now empty of horses and the door padlocked. We wandered down to the creek almost dried up from drought. We discussed our plans for the future. I’d been offered a job with a publishing house in Columbia. Your creativity in drawing evolved into a world of CAD software.

I gave a toast at your wedding reception which was held at my family farm I’d sold earlier to your oldest sister. My reference to Mighty Mouse was appreciated by your sisters and rewarded by a wink from you.

You gave a toast at my wedding including a remark about my pink teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini, causing my husband to give me a reproving look. Your sister saved the day by producing a bucket she’d painted pink with yellow polka dots, filled with wedding presents.

Each year we exchanged Christmas cards showing how our families grew as we each added children. Your card always included a drawing of Mighty Mouse. Our card contained a poem about a bikini.

The year my youngest left for college, my husband died of cancer. I fell into a stage of depression. Your sister invited me to stay with her on my family farm, now her home. The few weeks I spent with her were my salvation. I later returned the bucket she’d painted and given to me as a wedding present filled with thank-you gifts to her.

She shyly pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to me. “Read it, Grace.”

My eyes filled with tears as I reread our bucket list compiled as youngsters on the bank of the creek where we spent hours swimming and composing together. She’d underlined one of the items on the bucket list. It read: One day may we both be able to bring laughter to a world filled with harsh reality.

I sat with your family group a few years later when your wife passed away. You stayed with your brother who’d bought your parents’ farm.

I accepted your sister’s invitation to spend the weekend with her.

Years passed with each of us remaining single. Your sister kept each of us up-to-date on failing relationships.

One weekend I received an invitation to a family reunion your sister had organized at her farm.

It read: We always considered you family, Grace. I hope you’ll be able to attend. I’d like you to be my guest for the weekend.

I was not surprised to receive a note from you saying you were attending the reunion and hoped I’d be there too.

I was surprised to arrive and find you and me the only people attending besides your sister who had a smug self-satisfied look on her face. She said, “The others won’t arrive until tomorrow, but I’ve arranged a special treat for the two of you.” She handed you a blank drawing pad and pencils. To me she gave a blank notebook and pencil. “Why don’t you two wander down to the barn and on down to the creek? See if you can’t create something worth publishing.”

Happy to be together again, we headed toward the barn thinking we might find she’d bought a horse or two. Instead we found the old barn door still padlocked but with a pink bucket with yellow polka dots hanging on the door handle.

Looking inside we found a folded paper. It was our bucket list with the item underlined: One day may we both be able to bring laughter to a world filled with harsh reality.

Was that a hint of tears I saw in your eyes when you read it?

Laughter drifted over the creek filled with a summer of rain when you handed me the pad on which you’d drawn a middle-aged man with an exaggerated belly hanging over the waistband of his Mighty Mouse boxers.

You chuckled when I handed you my tablet on which I’d written: “There once was a young lady named Grace, who wore a yellow polka-dot bikini, pink with lace. When she jumped in to dunk, her bikini, it shrunk—a lot. Now, Grace is just one big yellow polka dot.”

As we walked back toward the farmhouse hand in hand, I thought of one of the other items on our bucket list: No matter what kind of weather, may we always be together, through thick and thin.

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Please visit Jane on her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ozarkwritersinc/

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Lynn Miclea – Bucket of Life

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

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Bucket of Life

by Lynn Miclea

Squeezing pressure. Hard to breathe. My chest ached. My jaw hurt. Dizziness flooded through me and I felt weak. I stumbled to the phone and called 9-1-1. Didn’t feel well. Nauseous. Felt awful. Could not take a deep breath. Shuffled to the front door and unlocked it. Lay down on the floor in front of the unlocked door and hoped they would get there in time. Darkness.

Surrounded by a flurry of activity. I was placed on a gurney. I felt a mask pressed to my face. I felt movement and heard sirens as the ambulance raced to the hospital. Felt hot and sweaty. Would I make it? Not sure I would survive. Darkness.

A room. Surrounded by doctors in blue scrub suits. I ached all over. Felt heavy. Something was horribly wrong.

“We’re losing her again.”

I floated up. Surrounded by brilliant white light. Warm and soothing.

“Clear!”

Who was talking? I looked down from the ceiling and watched my body bounce on the hospital bed. Doctors frantically moved and worked on my body. But I was up here above it all. That wasn’t me anymore. I was light and free. No more pain.

The light softened and I was surrounded by dazzling yellow flowers. They were so beautiful. And butterflies—hundreds of them. Thousands. They were exquisite. What was this place? Where was I?

A figure approached. Familiar, but looked different. My mom! She looked like she used to look when she was younger.

“Mom!” I called out to her.

She approached, a smile on her face. “It’s not your time.”

“What? No, I like it here. I don’t want to go back.”

“We’ll meet again, I promise. But there’s something you still need to do down there.”

“No, I’m done there. I want to be here with you.”

Beautiful music surrounded me. Beethoven? Chopin? Mozart? I wasn’t sure. But it was familiar and overpowering. I loved it.

My mom had something in her hand. “You have to go back and do something.”

“No, don’t make me go back.”

“Here.” She handed me something.

“What is this?” I looked at it. It was a small bucket.

“You’ll know what to do.”

“Huh?” I looked at the bucket—it was pink with yellow polka dots. What was this for?

“Clear!”

I bounced on the bed. I was so achy. Pain radiated throughout my body.

“She’s back!”

“Jenna, can you hear me?”

Where was I? I tried to respond. My eyes wouldn’t open. My mouth was dry.

“I see movement. She’s responding now.”

My eyes flew open. Doctors surrounded me, peering down at me.

“Jenna, can you hear me?”

I nodded. What happened to my dream? I remembered having such a nice dream. I couldn’t quite remember it, but it was nice.

A mask was placed on my face and I relaxed. There was a flurry of activity. I was moved to another gurney and wheeled somewhere. I slept.

***

A month later, I sat at my kitchen table for lunch and sipped an iced tea. I had recovered from my heart attack, but that really scared me and left me feeling vulnerable. And recovery was slow—I still didn’t feel great. I was alive, but I was not sure for what. Here I was, in my late sixties, retired, and no close friends. Why had I even survived? What good was my life?

I finished my sandwich and drank more iced tea. Feeling fatigued, I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh. It felt good to relax, even if I was still achy. Vague memories of a dream flitted through my mind, but I couldn’t quite catch it. I remembered seeing my mom. It had seemed so real. And she had given me something. Something important. But I couldn’t remember what it was.

I got up, placed the dirty dishes in the sink, and wandered aimlessly into the garage. Glancing around, everything seemed in place, except … what was that? It looked like a few of my storage boxes had been moved. But I didn’t remember moving them.

I moved closer. A pink handle of some sort stuck out next to one of the boxes. Something tickled in the back of my mind as I slowly reached forward and pulled on the handle. A pink bucket with yellow polka dots. What the … I gasped as the memory flooded back. The dream! That’s what my mom had given me in that dream! Nooooo!

How was that possible? I never had this object in real life. This was a dream object. It crossed over from the dream world into the real world. It made no sense. A shiver ran through me.

I looked inside the bucket. There was a folded piece of paper at the bottom—a note with writing on it. I cautiously pulled out the note, opened it, and read it.

Hartview Bridge. Today. 2:00 pm.

I felt my heartbeat quicken. My mouth went dry. What was this? I felt a vague pressure in the air. Was I having another heart attack? No, I felt okay. Just a vague overall pressure. I didn’t know why, but I knew I had to be at the Hartview Bridge at 2:00. I glanced at my watch. I’d have to leave in ten minutes. I didn’t want to be late for whatever it was.

I arrived at the bridge with five minutes to spare. I quickly scanned the area but didn’t see anything. Then movement caught my eye, and I squinted and started walking closer. A young teenager, male, maybe fifteen or sixteen, walked to the middle of the bridge. I felt that pressure increase. I still didn’t understand it, but I knew this young man was why I was here.

I quickened my steps and rushed forward. As I got closer, I could see that his hair was disheveled and his face was streaked with tears. Now twenty feet away, I could hear gasps and choking sobs coming from him.

He climbed up onto the first of three rungs that spanned the length of the bridge. I knew instantly that he intended to jump. I sprinted to him, and as he climbed up onto the second rung, I grabbed him around the waist and pulled him down.

He gasped and sputtered and spun around, looking at me. “What the hell? Leave me alone!”

“No, please don’t jump. Please. Talk to me. Whatever it is, don’t end your life. You’re needed here.”

He scowled and looked angry. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything.”

I nodded. He was right. I had no idea what his life was like. “Please just talk to me.” I spoke softly. “My name is Jenna. What is your name?”

He hesitated. “Shawn,” he whispered.

“Shawn, whatever you’re dealing with—”

“No, you don’t understand. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of the bullying. I’m tired of getting beat up.” His face contorted and he sobbed. “Everyone hates me and makes fun of me because I’m gay. But that’s who I am. I can’t—”

I squeezed his shoulder. “Actually, I do understand. My cousin is gay and I know what he’s been through. And I’m bi.” I hesitated and then went on. “Shawn, I promise you’re safe with me.” He sniffed and nodded. When he stayed and didn’t run away, I continued. “Can I buy you lunch? Please? Let’s talk.”

He nodded and began sobbing again. I reached for him and hugged him. I held onto him. After a couple minutes, I felt his body relax and I felt him cling to me. My heart broke for him. As we walked to my car and I took him to lunch, the pressure around me eased, and I knew that’s what I was here for. And I also knew I was the right person to help him.

***

A couple weeks later, I went into the garage to get a bottle of water. I felt a familiar pressure building. It occurred to me that I had not looked in that bucket in a while. I picked up the pink pail with the yellow polka dots and looked inside. Another note was at the bottom. How was this possible?

I picked up the note and read it.

439 Magnolia Blvd. Today. 10:30 am.

Chills ran up my spine. I felt gripped by that same pressure as it increased. I knew I had to be there. And I had to leave right away.

Parking my car two houses away from that address, I walked toward the building. It was a modest, two-story, gray house with white shutters and white trim. What was I doing here? I walked closer to the house. The lawn had been recently mown, and the hedges were neatly trimmed.

Shouts from the second story drew my attention. Looking up, I saw smoke billowing out of one of the windows. A woman, holding a baby, leaned out the window as flames shot out behind her. She wailed and looked around frantically. “Help!” she called out. “Is anyone there?” She screamed. “I’m not going to make it.” Flames licked the wall around her. “I’m sorry, my baby. Please survive.” She threw the baby out the window, trying to aim for some shrubbery.

I saw the baby flying through the air, screeching, its little arms flailing. I rushed forward toward the baby and caught him as he fell into my arms. I held him and rocked him as I heard sirens racing toward us. I glanced up and saw the woman straddling the window, ready to jump. She looked toward the sound of the fire engines and then saw me holding her precious baby. I rocked her sweet baby and talked to him as his mother’s heart-wrenching sobs filled the air. Within moments, firefighters rushed over with ladders and they climbed up to rescue the woman.

A few minutes later, I handed her the sweet baby, who was now cooing and reaching for his mama.

The pressure around me eased, and I knew I was done. I got back in my car and headed home.

***

Confusion settled around me. Who was putting the notes in that bucket? Why was I chosen for this? How long would this go on? But I received no answers.

Later that week, I felt the familiar pressure building again, and I ran to the garage and looked in the pink bucket. Sure enough, there was a note in there.

Lake Granada. South side. Today. 3:00 pm.

My gut knotted up. What was going on? Why me? I didn’t understand any of it. But I also knew I had to be there.

Parking my Honda in the parking lot by the lake, I checked the sign to make sure I was at the south end of the lake. I was. I got out of the car and looked around at the peaceful setting. Graceful sycamore and maple trees surrounded the lake. A cool fresh breeze blew off the water and washed over me as I walked toward the lake.

I thought I heard something. The pressure around me intensified. Again I heard a sound. Whimpering. Coming from the lake. I ran to the edge. Something was in the water—a small dog struggling to stay afloat. I could tell it was fatigued and could not make it to shore. I quickly took off my shoes and socks and ran into the cold water. The dog went under, then came back up, its snout barely breaking the surface. I swam as fast as I could. The dog saw me coming and tried to hold on, but I could see it was losing strength. It went under again just as I reached it. I quickly grabbed the furry brown dog and pulled him out of the water and held him to me. He clung to me as best he could, panting, making small whimpering noises.

Holding the poor dog in one hand I slowly made my way through the water to the shore. Breathing heavily and climbing out onto the small sandy area, I looked at the dog. I was fatigued myself, and I knew the dog would not have lasted much longer.

Grabbing an old towel from the back of my car, I sat down in a grassy area and examined the dog as I dried him with the towel. He looked like a terrier mix to me, exhausted but okay. I sat with him a few more minutes, drying him and comforting him. He licked my face. He was a sweet dog and looked like he had been well cared for. He must have gotten lost. He had a collar and a tag, and I called the number listed. The owner answered. Yes, he had lost his dog and had been frantic, trying to find him.

We made arrangements to meet, and I felt the pressure ease.

***

I hoped that would be all I was requested to do. I did not want to be in this position. I was tired and confused and still did not understand any of it.

The next week, I felt that familiar pressure building again. Reluctantly, I went into the garage and looked in the pink bucket with the yellow polka dots. Another note.

Market St. and Fourth Ave. SW corner. Today. 11:00 am.

Did I want to do this? I had to. I had no choice—it was compelling. The pressure was building, and I knew I needed to be there.

I parked my Honda down the street and walked to that corner. I didn’t see anything unusual, and I felt uncomfortable standing there just waiting for something to happen.

The pressure increased. Traffic was busy at that intersection, but not busier than usual. The light turned green, and I saw an older man waiting to cross the street as he watched the light but not the cars. A van was barreling down the street, and it was clear that it was not going to stop—it was going to run the red light. The man stepped off the curb, into the path of the van.

I jumped forward, grabbing the man’s arm and pulling him back onto the curb. “Hey—” he yelled as he fell back onto me and we both crashed to the sidewalk. “What the hell—”

The van rushed past us, the wind and dust kicking up behind it and blowing over us. We both stared after the van. “It would have hit you,” I said softly.

The old man looked at me. “I just wanted to get a newspaper,” he muttered.

“Are you okay?”

He nodded and I helped him get up. “Thank you, miss.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Thank you.”

I felt the pressure ease, and I patted him on the back. Before I left, I warned him to look both ways at the traffic before he stepped off the curb, and to be safe.

***

There were no more notes for a couple weeks, and then it started again. A few times each month I went on assignments, following the instructions on each note as it appeared. As much as it was rewarding to help others, it was also a bit unnerving. It was hard to wrap my head around it, and I never felt worthy of being in that position.

After about six months, the bucket remained empty for a few weeks. I wondered if it was over. Was I done? Who was sending the notes anyway? And how? It was all baffling and also exhausting. And I still did not understand any of it or why it was happening. And why me? Was I supposed to learn something? Make amends for something? I had no idea.

Then I felt the pressure build again. I made my way into the garage to the familiar bucket and pulled out the note.

Your living room. Today. 8:00 pm.

Huh? What or who would need my help in my own living room? But I knew I would honor the call. At 7:30, I sat on the couch in my living room. All was quiet. I turned on the TV and watched the news. Almost 8:00. The pressure increased. But no one else was there.

The pressure suddenly intensified. My heart pounded. My heart felt like it was exploding in my chest. What was this? My jaw ached. No! Nausea overwhelmed me and I broke out in a sweat. I ran for the phone. My legs gave way and I collapsed after a few steps. I could not reach the phone. It was hard to breathe. My vision grew black.

The room now flooded with bright light.

My mom was here again! “Mom!”

She smiled and opened her arms to greet me. “Hi, honey.”

I felt light and free. Brilliant yellow flowers were everywhere. Butterflies filled the air. A sweet, delicate fragrance washed over me.

I remembered that I had questions and needed answers. “Mom, how did the pink bucket appear in physical form? And why did I have to do all that? And why me?”

She laughed and glowed with love. “It will all become clear as you meet with your guide. That will happen shortly. Then you will understand all of it.”

“Okay.” That made sense and satisfied me for now. I smiled back at her as the butterflies danced around us. “Can I stay here this time?”

She nodded, as warmth and light radiated from her. “Yes, you can stay. Welcome home, honey.”

I was floating and it was intoxicating. Sparkles of glittering light flowed endlessly around me. That beautiful music permeated the air. A powerful sense of love enveloped me. I couldn’t help laughing as joy bubbled up within me.

The answers to my questions could wait. It was all okay.

I was home.

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Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Please also visit Lynn’s blog, like the story there, and follow her at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-oIPlease also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields – With This Ring

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

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With This Ring

By Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Laura Gwynn cradled her month-old son in her arms. Lulled by the steady rhythm of the train taking her from familiar Pennsylvania to unknown Missouri, she shut her eyes. How had it come to this?

She longed to confide in Mama or cry on Papa’s shoulder. This was never to be. Mama died of consumption and Papa couldn’t live with his broken heart. Laura had no siblings. Left alone at fifteen with nothing but a rundown farmhouse and a barren field, she sold the property and moved to the city. When she went to deposit the money from the sales at the bank, the teller’s deep brown eyes and dazzling smile captivated her. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with Thomas Gwynn.

Not long afterward, she accepted his proposal making her a bride at sixteen.

Thomas had a bright future with the bank. He promised her jewels and servants. Instead, he managed to get himself arrested for cheating at cards. The night before his scheduled trial, the men he had cheated lynched him, leaving Laura a widow at seventeen.

Filled with pity for her, Mr. Willoughby, the bank president, loaned her the money to cover Thomas’ gambling debts. He provided her with room and board and a position as a maid to pay off the loan.

Afraid she would lose her job, she kept her condition a secret. However, her small build and short stature made it impossible to hide for very long.

Mary and Charles Willoughby, who desperately wanted children, offered to adopt Laura’s baby.

“He’ll be heir to the Willoughby fortune. Surely, you see the wisdom in this.” Charles, an imposing presence with bushy white eyebrows and balding pate handed her a contract. “If you sign this, the child will never have to work a day in his life.”

Laura pressed her palms against her belly. The baby kicked against them. She remembered Thomas’ words when they wed. “You are now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

The child moved again. Laura refused to sign and uttered a feeble whisper. “I—I can’t.”

“You can,” Charles thundered and waved the paper under her nose, “and you will!”

“Oh my dear, consider your little one.” Mary grasped Laura’s hands, her faded eyes awash with longing. “Why you’re a wee child yourself.”

So certain Laura would relent, Mary put a full layette together. She made sure Laura ate well and didn’t do any heavy lifting. While Laura didn’t mind being pampered, she had no doubt as soon as Mary Willoughby had the baby in her clutches, she would cast Laura out on the street.

During her seventh month Laura noticed an advertisement in the newspaper for mail-order brides. Pictures of potential husbands accompanied mailing addresses. Laura scanned the blurry photographs.

A young man with a pleasant face caught her attention. Alfred Cromwell. He listed himself as a truck farmer in Harrisonville, Missouri. She winced. More than she hated farm life, she hated being servant to a pair of vultures with designs on her child—bone of her bone, flesh of Thomas’s flesh.

She had a photograph taken and enclosed it in a letter.

A month later Mr. Cromwell replied in scrawling longhand.

“5 May 1890

“Dear Mrs. Gwynn,

“I’d be right proud if you’d be my bride. I ain’t got much to offer but I got a sturdy cabin that could use a lady’s gentle touch. I promise to do my best to make you happy. If you accept, I’ll be sending you a train ticket.”

“Yours truly,

“Alfred C. Cromwell”

How could she refuse? The baby would be here any day.

The promised ticket arrived a week after Jason’s birth. One night, as soon as she felt strong enough, Laura packed her suitcase with her few belongings and Mary’s layette. She swaddled the baby, tucked him into a large wicker basket and laid a light blanket over it. Without so much as a note of explanation, Laura stepped out into the night and made her way to the depot.

By now, the Willoughbys had discovered her treachery. Did they send someone after her? The countryside zipped by. Jason opened his brown eyes and squinted at the early morning sunlight. Laura’s heart thudded against her ribs. She hadn’t told Alfred about the baby. What would he say—or do?

***

Clutching a bouquet of roses, Alfred studied Laura’s photograph. “She claims she’s almost eighteen and a widow woman, but she don’t look much older than fourteen, does she, Bert?”

“That’s a fact, Alf.” His brother Bert let out a long slow whistle. “Didja happen to tell her you’re nigh onto thirty-seven? You was a might younger when that picture you put in the paper was took.”

Alfred’s face warmed. “I mighta forgot to mention it.”

Bert’s wife Ginny adjusted Alfred’s necktie. “Don’t you worry none. You’re still a fine specimen. Any gal would be proud to have you. As for her being a widow, it don’t matter how old a woman is. If her husband dies, she’s a widow. Plain and simple.”

The train pulled up to the platform, its whistle heralding its arrival. Alfred tightened his grip on the flowers. He surveyed the passengers exiting the train. “She says she’s not very tall.”

Ginny shielded her eyes with her hand and craned her neck. She pointed. “Wonder if she could be that little girl with the big basket slung over her arm.”

Alfred inched closer for a better look. The girl in question was clad in black from her bonnet to her shoes. She stood on tiptoe as if she were searching for someone.

“Mrs. Gwynn?” He stepped toward her. She couldn’t be more than five feet tall, if that. “Laura?”

She raised her head to reveal surprised blue eyes and freckled cheeks framed by sleek amber locks. “Mr. Cromwell? I thought—”

“—I’d be younger?” He took her suitcase and handed her the bouquet. “I can explain that.”

A tear made a trail through her freckles. His heart sank. He reached for the basket. “Lemme carry that for you.”

“No.” She blushed and shrank back. “I’ll carry…it.”

She laid the bouquet on top of the basket and slipped her hand through the crook of his offered arm.

“I hope the ring I bought ain’t too big.” He pointed to Bert and Ginny who waited in the carriage. “There’s our best man and maid of honor.”

“You mean…?”

“I figured we’d go straight to the courthouse while we’re in town.”

Laura bit her lip.

“Unless you’re a-changing your mind. I’ll understand. On account I lied about my age and all.”

She flashed a quivering smile. “No. I gave you my word. My mama used to say it’s bad luck to get married in black.”

“Hogwash!” He helped her into the carriage’s back seat and climbed in beside her. “Let’s get ourselves hitched.”

A noise came from Laura’s basket. “That ain’t what I think it is, is it?” He leaned over and pushed the blanket aside. “You never said nothing about no baby.”

Ginny turned in her seat, her gray eyes sparkling. “Now ain’t that something, Alfie? I guess you ain’t the only one keeping secrets.”

***

A week later, Laura cuddled Jason and drank in his sweet scent. Alfred’s snores came from the front room where he slept on a palette on the floor. On their wedding night, he had gathered his blankets and left the bed to her and the baby. “I don’t expect you to be beholding to your wifely duty until you’re ready.”

Although Alfred couldn’t hold a candle to Thomas when it came to looks, he had nice enough features. She liked his sky-blue eyes and dimpled smile. The honest face of a simple man.

She held her left hand up to the lamp on the roughhewn night table and studied her new wedding ring. Unlike the cheap band Thomas gave her, Alfred had taken great care to choose one with style. She admired the way the intricate filigree shimmered in the light.

A hollow sense of desolation and shame flooded her as she reflected on her wedding day.

The tight-lipped justice of the peace droned the marriage ceremony as it was written in his book. Ginny held Jason who howled from “Dearly beloved” to “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Laura clung to her slightly wilted bouquet to keep her hands from shaking. Alfred promised to “love, honor and cherish.” All the while he glowered at the baby.

***

Alfred leaned against the doorjamb and watched Laura sleep. Her son curled up in the crook of her arm. Morning sunlight illuminated her flaxen hair which splayed across her pillow. Her long eyelashes fringed her translucent cheeks. He ached with longing, but he’d vowed not to push her.

She opened her eyes. “Good morning, Mr. Cromwell.”

A month had passed since the wedding. She still refused to call him by his first name and continued to wear black. Ginny assured him his young bride would warm up to him. She just needed time. How much time? His back hurt from sleeping on the unforgiving floor.

“Good morning, Mrs. Cromwell.”

***

Laura decided it was high time she repay Bert and Ginny’s kindness with a home-cooked meal—fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans from the garden.

The older woman provided good company and made Laura feel welcomed and appreciated. More than that, she made Laura feel like family.

While Bert and Alfred worked the fields, Ginny helped Laura put the finishing touches on gingham curtains. As her needle flashed in and out of the cloth, she chattered, regaling Laura with amusing stories about Alfred.

“He’s always been kind-of awkward and tongue-tied around women. I’m the one who suggested he send away for a bride. Honey, you could be exactly what the doctor ordered.”

Laura put down her sewing. “Could be?”

Ginny leveled her gaze on Laura. “You ain’t man and wife yet, are you?”

Laura’s cheeks blazed. “I said ‘I do.’”

“‘I do’ don’t amount to a hill of beans when you’re dressing like a widow and dragging your chin on the ground. Alfie deserves better and so do you.”

Hours later, fingering the pink polka-dotted fabric of her new dress, Laura grinned. “Ginny’s right.” She dropped the green beans in salted water and stirred them.

“Why don’t you look purty, Mrs. Cromwell?” Alfred circled his hands around her shoulders. “Smell nice, too.”

She whipped about and gently poked his shoulder with her spoon. “Please, Mr. Cromwell. Don’t disturb the cook.”

He dropped open his mouth. “Are you flirting with me, Mrs. Cromwell?”

The baby in his basket whimpered. Soon the whimper grew into a squall. Laura heaved an exasperated sigh. “He can’t be hungry. Would you mind holding him while I fry the chicken, Mr. Cromwell?”

Alfred knelt and gathered Jason in his arms. “You sure is growing, son. Come to Papa.”

Laura’s pulse raced. “What did you say?”

“I—I know I ain’t his pa. It jest slipped out.” Alfred held the baby tighter. “I ain’t no fool, Laura. You didn’t marry me for love. You married me to get out of a bad situation. Fact is I do love you and this here young’un. Would ya consider allowing me to give him my name?”

She sank down on his lap and wreathed her arms around his neck. “My darling Alfie. Cromwell is a wonderful name.”

Jason’s indignant cries rousted Laura from Alfred’s deep and lingering kiss. She looked up to see Ginny and Bert.

Bert chuckled. “Time for dinner yet?”

“Come to Aunt Ginny before you suffocate.” Ginny lifted Jason from Alfred’s shoulder. “Looks to me like dinner’s gonna be a bit late tonight. Your ma and pa got some serious business to attend to.”

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Please visit Rochelle’s website at https://rochellewisoff.com

Doug Blackford – Some Days

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

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Some Days

By Doug Blackford

“Daddy! Daddy! Look!”

“You’re doing great, baby!”

What else was I supposed to say? Being a single dad was both the scariest and most rewarding thing I’d ever done in my life, and that was counting three tours in Afghanistan and getting shot twice. I was proud of my little girl riding Blanca on her own, but it terrified me she might fall off.

“Don’t grip the reins too tight, baby. You wouldn’t want someone yanking hard on your mouth. Hold them firm, but not tight. She only needs a little of a tug for direction.”

“I know, Daddy!”

Ten-year-old exasperation crept into her voice, but it just made me smile. I think we’re all like that at that age. Truth be told, the aging mare didn’t need the reins at all, but not all horses were trained to respond to neck taps or voice commands. Better for Liv to learn the regular way before teaching her anything more advanced.

My wife didn’t want Liv riding alone until she was at least ten, but riding with me was okay. Today was Liv’s tenth birthday, so I’m sure you can imagine her delight. I mean, what little girl doesn’t want a horse at some point? The fact we had several only made it better.

My government disability helped, but it wasn’t enough to make all the ends meet. I still needed to make a living, so boarding and hosting trail rides covered the difference. Blanca was my horse — a beautiful white Appaloosa with just a smattering of black on her flanks and hindquarters. She had been all sorts of spirited when she was younger, and she and I had numerous discussions and arguments about that fact, but she was in her late teens now and had settled into a middle-aged comfort zone. Every once in a while we’d play the game when it was just us, but she was very careful with Liv.

“Watch, Daddy!”

Liv urged Blanca into a trot and stood up in the stirrups. Her legs bent with the changed rhythm of the gait, but I could tell by how far Blanca’s head was angled down that Liv was pulling too hard on the reins to try and keep her balance.

“Put your butt back in that saddle, young lady!”

To her credit, she sat down quickly, and I motioned for her to come over. I continued leaning against the top split rail of the fence with one forearm and rubbed Blanca’s nose with the other hand when Liv pulled her up.

“You can’t pull on the reins that hard, baby. Blanca’s not going to throw you for doing it, but that hurts her mouth. Her mouth is just as sensitive as yours and that bit in her mouth is made of metal. You have to use your legs to keep your balance when you stand up, not the reins. Understand?”

She had her eyes downcast and a slight pout to her lips, playing up the look of chastisement and hurt feelings to the hilt. She knew she was doing it, too. I swear, girls seem to become ever more self-aware at a younger and younger age. I don’t recall them being like that when I was that age, but then again, us guys seem to be pretty clueless around then, and later, so I probably just never noticed.

“Don’t even. I’m not upset and you know it, so quit with the puppy dog.”

Liv giggled a little and raised her eyes to meet mine. Hers were so brilliantly blue that there was no doubt she had gotten them from her mother. The sudden pain of the gut punch caught me off guard when I met those eyes. My heart felt like it skipped a beat and it was all I could do to not gasp for air as my wife’s face filled my vision.

I covered by ducking through the rails and rubbing Blanca’s neck with one hand and resting the other on Liv’s leg.

“Look, I just want you to learn how to ride her right so you’ll both enjoy it. You’ll be amazed at what she can do when she trusts you to ride her right. You’ve seen me ride her without you. She can do all that with you, too, once she trusts you not to hurt her.”

Liv showed every indication of understanding when she nodded. “I know, but it’s hard!”

Of course, she had a ten-year-old whine at the end — always impatient. I did my best not to chuckle at her, but couldn’t keep from smiling.

“I know. It just means you’ll have to practice. I guess that means you’ll have to ride her a lot.”

I’m not sure there is anything better in the world than seeing your daughter full of happiness and love, but when it’s directed at you, well, words cannot describe it. It’s something you have to experience to understand. She damn near leaped out of the saddle and into my arms, then started kissing me all over my face.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Daddy! I love you! Thank you!” Liv pulled back her head and looked in my eyes again with a wide grin. “Did I say thank you? Thank you!”

I could laugh now and did. “Yeah, okay already. You’re welcome. Happy birthday, baby. One rule, though. You can only ride when I’m around to watch. I know you’re smart and all, but no riding on your own until I say you’re good enough. Deal?”

“Awww, really? Yeah, okay.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

I let her down to the ground and leaned down to kiss the top of her head. “Now go unsaddle Blanca and rub her down. I’ll come hang up the tack and turn her out when you’re done.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

I watched her pick up the reins and lead Blanca off to the stable. I needed a few minutes to collect myself after the gut punch. I was still feeling it.

It had been over two years since my wife had died of cancer. I had reached a point where I could go without thinking about it some days. Not most days, but some days. It had happened quick — six months from start to finish. She didn’t know anything was wrong, then it was, and by then the doctors said it was too late to reverse the damage. They could try all the standards, but it would only delay things and make her miserable in the meantime. We went with the painkillers and that was it. We made the most of that six months until she became too weak, and then she was gone.

Twenty-plus years gone, but they were wonderful years. Our love of horses brought us together while I was in the military, and the love of horses was what helped me and Liv get through the loss of her mother. It wasn’t always easy, and we certainly had our bad days, but riding Blanca together had helped us bond and find joy amidst the pain and anger. I missed her, but I could endure the sadness now without breaking down or falling into a depression.

It only took a few minutes to feel solid again, passing through shock and sadness to remembered joys and a daughter with her mother’s eyes. I headed towards the main stable, but cast a glance towards one of its side doors, knowing what I would see.

My wife had bought a pink pail with polka dots while pregnant with Liv. She used it to feed her horse, Char, but she would never tell me why. She told me the reason shortly before she died and then I understood.

“Char isn’t much older than Liv, so when she’s old enough to ride him, he will still be a fire-blooded Arabian. He will be a handful for her. He needs to trust her and the best way to get a horse to trust you is familiarity. Besides riding it, the best way to do that is to feed it. I use the same pail to feed Char every day, and only Char. And when I’m not strong enough to do it anymore, Liv will do the same. You’ll teach her to ride and when she’s old enough, she and Char will be ready for each other.”

The pail hung on the side door, where it had always been put since my wife had gotten it. It had been repainted a couple of times to renew the paint, but it always hung in the same place. Char’s stall was the first one inside that door. My wife, always thinking of the future. Char was always going to be Liv’s.

Just the sight of it made me smile again. “Not yet, love, but we’re getting there.”

As I approached the stable, I yelled, “Liv! Don’t forget to feed Char!”

I grinned as Liv yell-whined back at me, “I know, Dad!”

Sometimes Daddy, sometimes Dad. Still about equal, but she was growing up. That was tomorrow’s terror. Today was not one of the bad days.

Copyright © 2019 DJ Blackford. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit Doug Blackford’s blog and follow him: https://smithandscribe.wordpress.com

Kelli J Gavin – Bucket

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

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Bucket

By Kelli J Gavin

I have been told it is too small

My bucket, that is

Too small to hold it all

Hopes and dreams should be big I am told

Bigger than what my bucket can hold

I believe it is just the right size

It contains everything I need

Happiness

Memories

Love

Faith

Kindness extended to me

Forgiveness

Lessons learned

Gratefulness

But what it contains is mine

A little bit of who I am

Of what I have become

When I pour it all out

I gaze at where I once was

Savor where I am now

It is altogether inspiring to me

That my small bucket holds

Everything I need

Hopes for my children

Dreams for my loved ones

Satisfaction of a life being lived well

Stop worrying about my bucket

Start addressing the hole in yours

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Please visit Kelli’s blog and follow her! https://kellijgavin.blogspot.com/2019/06/bucket.htmloodnes

Doug Blackford – The Hollow

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

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The Hollow

By Doug Blackford

You seldom think about the end of something when it is at its beginning. It is something new, perhaps a symbol or an advancement of what came before. It has its entire future ahead of it and may endure long after your own existence has ended. Yes, you may think about that part of the end — your own, but seldom a thought towards the end of the creation you leave behind.

I remembered when it was built. I saw it when it was new. I walked its hallowed halls. I spoke in its main chamber. I also recall burying its architect, one friend among countless others I have bid goodbye over the centuries. Time lays low all things, eventually. Like water, it is persistent and patient and cares not one whit about your opinion of it. It is inevitable.

It was built from stones carved from the same moors in which it stood. A great swath of The Highlands that had known nothing but clan wars for centuries surrounded it in all directions. The Bloody Moors, they had once been called. I had shed more than my share of blood on them, my own and others. If all the dead here rose at once, there would be a considerable population problem. There was no end to it, until High Church.

There had been churches built, spreading the word of the Christian God and converting many of my people from their pagan worship. It did not stop the warring between clans. It only gave them more reasons and excuses to prove they were more “righteous” than the other clans. If anything, it made things worse. In my many centuries of life, I have witnessed more people killed in the name of religion than any other reason.

Such was not the case with High Church. It was part church, part combat arena, part government, and all neutral. No weapons were allowed inside its walls. All disputes had two avenues of recourse — diplomacy or combat, sometimes both. All physical confrontations were to take place in the arena and were to be unarmed. The stakes and rules inside the arena were determined by the participants and no interference was allowed. Any infraction of any rule had one warning and one of two penalties. Many were banned from ever stepping foot within the walls again, and a few dozen were executed in the early years, but it became clear that it made more sense to just obey the rules.

No clan had any more authority or rights within High Church than any other. All were treated as equal, whether small clan or large. The Bishop of High Church was the ultimate authority within its walls, but held none over the clans themselves. That dubious honor belonged to the Lord or Lady of High Church, though I only recall one Lady. He, or she, was elected each equinox and could serve no more than two consecutive terms, so one full year.

I tell you this because it worked. The wars didn’t completely stop. Not immediately. It’s in our blood and we do not care much for change. How’s that for irony? Me, reluctant to change. Ha! In any case, it did reduce the warring between clans. In time, over a century in fact, they did stop. You had the occasional border skirmish, but no more all-out clan-against-clan wars that decimated our population. High Church became the central seat of government and we enjoyed a relatively peaceful and prosperous 150 years. Then invasion came. Like the aforementioned water and time, it was inevitable. We had something others wanted. Too often, when someone wants something someone else has and they perceive themselves to be the stronger of the two, they try to take what they want. Such was the case, but they erred. As I said, war is in our blood. It was never far below the surface — just banked like a fire in the hearth. It kindled back to full flame in an instant.

Time destroys all things eventually, but humans usually get to it first. I lost everyone that was still important to me over those years. I have lost many more friends over the centuries since. There have been many more wars. There have been other creations as great as High Church, but they too have been laid low. Most recently, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris suffered that fate. Almost 200 years to finish its construction, then laid low in a single night.

Why I still live, I cannot tell you for sure. I was born in the sixth century, though I can’t say exactly when. We used seasons to mark time. Calendars haven’t been around forever, and they have changed a few times since we started using them, plus I really don’t remember a precise year, much less a month and day. The best I can figure is I upset or killed the wrong person in my youth and was cursed for it.

I don’t know if I can die. I have tried a few times, but I always wake up all in one piece. Sometimes years will have passed or I will find myself buried. I was buried for a long time once. Over 120 years had passed when I saw the sun again. Some would say, “Immortality! Give me some of that!” It is not an exhilarating existence. I have known a multitude of people, some famous, and I have seen some amazing things and places, some now forgotten, but I am tired. And empty.

War will always be in my blood, but I no longer have any passion. I care for nothing. Death no longer moves me or angers me. Life no longer amazes me. Beauty leaves no impression upon me. I have lost all faith in humanity. I have seen too much, but I cannot even remove my eyes to stop seeing it. They grow back. I only wish for it to end, but I have no idea how to end it.

And so, I sit here in The Bloody Moors, next to the last remains of High Church, waiting for I know not what. I can hear the vernal equinox celebration coming from the town bearing its name over and down the hill. All they know are mostly wrong stories about how their town got its name. High Church has become like me. We are both empty and irrelevant, echoes from the past with nothing but hollow shells to mark our existence in this age.

I sit and I wait. I am The Hollow.

Please visit Doug at his blog: https://smithandscribe.wordpress.com

Calliope NJO – My Journey

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

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“My Journey”

By Calliope NJO

A place of ruins filled with memories of the past. The breeze carried voices of the people who once inhabited this place. If one dug underneath, I would not be surprised to discover the remains of the warriors who once battled to save this kingdom.

I didn’t know if anyone else did, but I heard voices carried over the breeze. Crying and screaming for the next order in the hopes it meant retreat. Horses stomped and cried as loud as their riders did.

If I listened hard enough, swords clanked together as a distant warrior shouted that arrows rained down on them. I took a deep breath in and smelled the salty air as the waves crashed. I closed my eyes to entice peace. It worked because when I opened them, the breezes stopped as did the noises.

I needed to take all this back home with me to create that story. A novel about a love lost in battle. About that princess who waited for her warrior to return so they could live the rest of their lives together.

Almost as if someone heard my thoughts, I felt a strong urge to walk towards the window remains. I needed to dig. Without tools, I had to use my hands. I didn’t mind getting my hands dirty because the greatest of treasures sometimes required to be dug up to find them.

Two piles of rocks, and about as many piles of dirt later, I found a book. Water and dirt soaked into it. That and whatever ink had been used to write with made it tough to read. I believed I was brought here for a reason and I needed to try to at least understand the pages. There had to be a way.

I tucked it in my bag and walked away. I vowed never to forget this place and all that it had.

When I returned home, down the hallway, into the bedroom, and on the bed I went. I wished I could have slept, but that proved impossible. Those voices kept tickling in my head.

People say that playing music the opposite of that earworm often helped to kill it. Beethoven’s Fifth often cured that, but nothing could counteract cries and screams of battle.

Prayer may be a possibility, but I never thought of myself as religious. My only choice was to wait.

The house had a master bedroom and a writing room. Poster boards encompassed the walls. Everything from a landscape and architectural board to a rough outline of names and plot points. They took up an entire room.

If anyone came in, they might have commented on how funny it looked. This story needed the space though. A new story about an exotic place, all that material needed to be there, but word count dictated otherwise. What and how to cut I had no idea.

I took a closer glance at the book I found, and an unusual phenomenon happened. The pages cleaned themselves up, and the words became brighter and more visible. Maybe Grammy’s gift had been passed on to me.

She used to tell me stories of such events happening to her. I thought it was because grandmas tell wild tales. After this experience, I started to understand her better.

All that information and I had no notion where to start. Yes, from the top, but I had no concept what was considered the starting point. I needed to tackle this on my own because nobody would understand. My job was to find the story.

We sewed new clothes, baked bread and cooked stews, and with her help, explored the abilities we had. Growing up, I enjoyed my stays with her. I felt empty when she died.

I clung to that book and read it multiple times. About to put it away, the realization that the book was not a personal diary but a recount of events came to mind. There were descriptions of dinners and ceremonies but nothing intimate. No stories written from her point of view filled with feelings or interpretations. I couldn’t imagine not reading into that.

Another thing I missed was the note on the first page: I hope this pleases you, Your Majesty. So maybe her mother or father had been overseeing her writing this. She needed to hide something, could have been a love interest.

Well, not much to go on, but it gave me a place to start at last. Her words became mine as if her soul inhabited my body. I didn’t recognize the wording so she must have had some part in it.

Three years in the making and the final draft done, getting it looked over by my editor was the only thing left to do. It got saved in a thumb drive and put aside for safekeeping.

The thought of a break and a walk among the living for a change sounded enticing. A personal celebration for getting that story finished. A good steak dinner with baked potato and sour cream, green beans, and a salad sounded so good. A slice of cheesecake for dessert. A very rich idea but a very well-deserved treat.

I opened the garage door so I could pull the car out. Not sure what I expected to see, but the same Lincoln Town Car parked across the street with the same yellow Volkswagen Beetle right behind it.

I laughed at myself and shook my head. The thought of losing my mind rose to the surface. A bit of food would help to alter those thoughts.

I sat in the car and couldn’t get over the fact that a big hole still lurked in that story. Something that she didn’t want me to know or the rest of the world to know. That hole in the wall when I punched it after Mother told me writing was not a real job but a complete waste of time came into full view. My hand broken, I had to drive to the ER one handed since Mother refused to take me. Things sure got heated after Grammy—

That was it. My story needed that interaction with the parents. My own experiences told in story form. Thumb drive out and loaded, I rewrote the entire story.

* * *

Love From a Window stared back at me. I couldn’t help but think it all started from a trip to look at ruins of a castle. I insisted on them using my picture, it seemed fitting, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Please visit Calliope’s new blog and follow her: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog


Sean Bracken: The Great Danes

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

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The Great Danes

By Sean Bracken

CE 891

Marauders

Strong muscles glistened with sweat in the early morning light. In perfect unison, powerful strokes moved the ships against the current of the river Seine. The beat of a large drum, mounted at the stern of the lead ship, provided rhythm to the oarsmen as they pulled against the fast-flowing river.

The fleet consisted of one hundred warships, each crewed by sixty to a hundred warriors. The battle group was supported by a further twenty-four cargo craft, carrying extra arms, provisions and live goats for milk and fresh meat. The men aboard these support ships were also fearsome fighters. The sides of the longboats were protected by rows of shields, hung over the sides, just above the oars.

Above each ship, a tall mast hewn from mighty spruce trees, supported a single square rigged sail, furled and tied securely to a crossbeam.

The men were in jovial spirits. Paris was but two days away and the men looked forward to taking the city and the riches it contained.

They chanted in time to the drum, “Heave… Ho, Heave… Ho. To conquer Paris, we all go. Heave… Ho, Heave… Ho. King of Paris, fear your foe.”

The strong currents gave way to gentler waters, as the boats rounded a bend in the river into a wider expanse, and the men eased back on the oars. High on a hill overlooking the river, the old monastery of Saint Benedict stood tall and proud. Six ships pulled away from the main group, heading towards a shingle beach. The riches of this place were renowned throughout Europe and beyond. The Norsemen meant to have it all.

Word of the advancing Viking fleet had reached the monastery two days earlier. The Abbot, Brother Cornelius, had responded to the news by organising the monks into a hurried but effective concealment of the rich treasures and holy relics. Chalices, encrusted with precious gems, joined golden crucifixes and ornate tabernacles. Beside these riches, piles of illuminated books and scriptures were assembled. Each work painstakingly created over centuries by the hands of monks working into the dark nights by candlelight.

All traces of the treasures were gone with only hours to spare, before the invading horde arrived.

Led by Gulag Jacobson, the Norsemen were quick about their business. No sooner than the ships reached shore, the battle-hardened men were climbing the hill. The vine fields and vegetable gardens were left unattended. Goats, sheep and cattle ignored, as the raiding party reached the cloistered halls of the monastery.

At first the structure seemed abandoned. The warriors made their way from building to building, from room to room, finding nothing. The chant of holy song called out through the empty halls and, following the sound, the Viking warriors found the church.

Monks, dressed in brown, rough sack-cloth robes, tied at the waist by plain ropes, stood singing their songs of praise to their God. Not one monk showed any sign of fear. Instead they seemed to be joyous.

Filled with bloodlust, the Vikings descended on the praying monks. Broadswords and battle axes rained down on the heads and bodies of the monks. In moments, it was all over. Fifty monks lay dead or dying. Their blood seeping into the crevices of the chapel floor. The holy song replaced by the cries and whimpers of the injured.

Perhaps, had the Norsemen spared even one monk, they might have discovered where the treasure was hidden. But no, as the last monk expired his final breath, he took the secret with him.

The Vikings ransacked the monastery, upending furniture, desecrating the church. Their search was in vain. Frustrated beyond belief, in anger they put torches to the buildings. Fuelled by ancient oak rafters, wooden pews, timber floors and the corpses of the dead, the monastery was soon an inferno.

Before returning to the ships on the beach, the Norsemen rounded up the cattle, goats and sheep, and herded them aboard the boats.

Pulling hard on their oars, they rowed fast and furious, intent on rejoining their comrades for the assault on Paris.

Behind them, flames from the burning monastery soared high in the sky, and black clouds darkened the sun.

Present Day

Baldur and Frya

Jenny Rider’s heart heaved from exertion. The trek through the forest and the final climb up to the clearing would have been taxing enough, but the oversized pack on her back slowed her progress and weighed heavy on her shoulders. Despite the discomfort, Jenny relished her environment.

The area had been a national park and wildlife preserve for many years, but because of poor access, remained unspoilt and untravelled. Here, there were no sign-posted nature trails, park benches, picnic areas, camping sites or any other signs of humanity. The only paths were animal trails, made by foxes, deer, badgers and other wild creatures.

This was where Jenny felt whole. This was where her spirit soared. This was where she became alive.

In the real world, Jenny worked as a day trader for a major banking corporation. Her days were spent studying computer screens, monitoring subtle changes and fluctuations in commodities, shares and currencies. She was good at her job, some said that she was gifted, so much so that between her salary and performance bonuses, Jenny had become a very wealthy woman. In her late thirties, with a mane of rich auburn hair, piercing blue eyes, and gifted with a tall athletic body, she was envied by many and loved by all who knew her.

At her heels ran Baldur, a Great Dane. Baldur and his sister Frya had been her constant companions for many years. Today, Jenny’s normal joy of the forest was missing. Along with her tent, sleeping bag and provisions, Jenny carried an urn containing the cremated remains of Frya. She had come here to bury her beloved and loyal friend at the top of the hill, on the fringes of the forest.

“Nearly there now, boy,” she said, as she reached the edge of the forest.

The shadows of the foliage gave way to a broad expanse of meadow, leading up to the ruins of a now desolate abbey. Little remained of the monastic settlement. A single arched wall stood tall and proud against the sky. Devoid of its splendid stained-glass windows, it defied the centuries, a testament to the masons and craftsmen of old. Wisps of cloud drifted overhead in the late June sky. Below, the majestic river Seine continued its journey to the sea. Undergrowth from the forest threatened to invade the clearing. Gorse and ferns encroached into the sacred grounds, as if testing and probing, in preparation for nature’s final incursion and takeover of the land.

Jenny and Baldur sank to the ground below the arched windows. Exhausted from the hike, Jenny sat with her back against the structure and released the clasps on her pack. Baldur lay beside her, resting his huge head on her lap. She pulled a dish from her pack for the dog and gave him some water from her canteen. The thirsty beast lapped it up in a few seconds and Jenny gave him a refill. She chewed on an energy bar while she rested. Then it was time to pitch camp.

Jenny led Baldur over to the edge of the clearing. Many years ago, when she was still a young girl, she had helped her father to choose the site, and she had used this spot ever since. The big firepit they had built all those years ago only needed a little cleaning, and soon it was as good as new. Well practised and trained, Baldur vanished into the treeline, returning moments later carrying a branch in his mouth. The dog continued to search for firewood and kindling until Jenny gave him the command to stop.

Jenny set about unpacking her tent and camping gear. By the time Baldur had amassed enough branches and twigs, the campsite was ready. As the sun began to set, Jenny had a warm fire blazing in the pit with a pot of water coming to a boil for coffee.

Frya’s ashes sat in an urn at the side of the tent.

“It’s getting dark now, Baldur,” Jenny said. “We’ll take care of Frya in the morning.”

They both enjoyed a filling meal, cooked on the open fire. Jenny sipped on the last of her coffee and gave the last of the water to Baldur. She knew that there was a pristine stream nearby for fresh water and that she could refill the canteens in the morning.

They sat quietly together, enjoying the nighttime sounds of the forest, until the dying fire had fully extinguished. Under the light of a full moon, they crawled into the two-man tent and slept soundly until dawn.

The following morning, after replenishing their water bottles and enjoying a hearty breakfast, Jenny picked up the urn and began to scout for a suitable place to bury the ashes.

She eventually decided to dig under the arched window of the monastery. Bandur nodded his head as if in agreement with her choice.

As she began to dig, Jenny reflected on the history of this sacred place. It had once been a thriving community of monks. Their life devoted to prayer and contemplation of holy scripture. The monastery was reputed to have been rich in treasure, and religious art and manuscripts. Until one morning the Vikings had arrived. They sacked the settlement, killed the monks in a bloody slaughter and torched the buildings, before making off, laden down with the riches they had stolen.

A dull metallic thud interrupted Jenny’s digging. She cleared the dirt from the hole and looked down. Expecting to see bedrock or a flagstone from the floor of the old church, she was surprised to see what looked like a stone trapdoor with a circular brass handle attached to it.

“What have we got here, Baldur? Perhaps an old wine cellar or storage area. Come on, let’s keep digging and see what we find.”

Baldur joined in to help, scraping away at the dirt with his front paws. An hour of constant excavation revealed the full extent of the trapdoor. It was roughly three feet by two feet with two handles, one at each end of the longer sides. Jenny pulled on the handles, but the door stood firm. It was firmly embedded in the soil. Jenny redoubled her efforts, straining to lift the stone slab. It was futile, the slab refused to budge.

“Baldur, fetch the rope, boy. Go to the camp and fetch the rope.”

Baldur immediately obeyed her command and ran back to the camp. He picked up Jenny’s climbing rope in his mouth and ran back to her, wagging his tail.

“Good boy, good boy,” she said, scratching the dog behind his ears and feeding him a reward from her pocket.

Jenny looped the rope through the brass handles and threw the slack up and over the arched window frame. She ran around to the other side and, using the arch for leverage, pulled with all of her strength on the rope. At first, the slab refused to budge, but slowly, ever so slowly, Jenny felt movement. With one final heave on the rope, the massive stone slab slid up and free from the hole. Jenny sank to her knees, gasping for breath. Her arms and back ached from the strain.

“Come on boy, let’s see what we’ve found,” she said. “I hope it’s not the grave of some long-dead monk.”

Jenny switched on her torch and shone it down into the excavation. Rough hewn steps, carved into the rock, led down into the gloom.

“Sit, Baldur, sit. Stay, boy.”

The dog obeyed and Jenny began to climb down into the dark chamber.

At once she knew that this was no grave site or wine cellar. She was surrounded by a treasure trove. Gold and silver relics, stacks of ancient books, chalices and crosses filled the room.

Leaving Baldur to stand guard, Jenny set out on the twenty-mile hike through the forest back to civilisation. Three hours later, she found a roadside service station and a Wi-Fi signal. She Googled a number for the National Institute for Antiquities. She explained her discovery to the man at the other end, Professor Tibot. She told him that the find was now open to the elements and needed urgent attention.

Professor Tibot must have been a man of some influence. Just over an hour later, he alighted from a Bell helicopter, in the parking lot of the service station. After quick introductions, Jenny was in the air, heading back to her camp.

When they landed, they found Baldur still patiently standing guard over the excavation.

The professor was astounded at the wealth of Jenny’s find. He contacted his institute in Paris on the Bell’s radio and, by that night, the area was swarming with people removing and cataloguing the treasure. Floodlights and generators had been installed, allowing the team to work through the night.

Jenny was entitled to fifty percent of the find’s value, but she waived her rights to the claim on one condition.

And so it came to pass that a great treasure trove, missed by the Vikings all those centuries ago, became named after two other Great Danes, Freya, goddess of love and war, and Baldur, god of peace.

Despite the great excitement at her discovery, Jenny left the dig site with a heavy heart. Frya was interred at the forest edge, and Jenny knew that her private place, known only to her and her late father for all these years was gone. From now on it would be famous. Public trails would be opened and soon coach loads of tourists and day-trippers would take over.

The End

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Please visit Sean’s blog for more of his work: https://sean-bracken.site123.me/

Rylee Black – O’Dell Castle

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

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O’Dell Castle

By Rylee Black

Tommy O’Dell settled himself into the seat of the airplane with a relieved sigh. A small groan slipped out as he shifted to tuck his tattered backpack under the seat in front of him and then another as he lifted arthritic shoulders to wrangle in the seatbelt then snap it shut. He turned eyes, once bright blue but now rheumy and red-rimmed with age, to the young woman next to him. The smile he gave her was sad and his lips trembled a bit with the effort. When he spoke, his voice held hints of its once deep baritone and whispers of his native Ireland.

“Growing old is not for the faint of heart, lass. Enjoy your youth while ye can.”

The pretty redhead returned his smile. “Oh, I am, sir. Though Mum thinks I enjoy it too much at times. Is Ireland home or are you just going for a visit?”

“A wee bit of both, I suppose. And you?”

Her face lit with an excited smile. Ah, how much she reminded him of someone else. “I’m going to visit my nan on my dad’s side. It’s my first time here. Mum and Dad moved to America when I was just a little baby. I’ve spoken to my nan on the phone loads of times and we’re super good friends. Mum and Dad surprised me with this trip as a graduation gift. I know they couldn’t really afford it and that makes it even more special. I plan to pay them back when I can.”

He couldn’t help but smile back, her enthusiasm was contagious. “How splendid for you, my dear. I’m sure your nan is just as anxious to see you.”

They chatted off and on for the whole flight, she because she was unable to contain herself, and he because her pale skin, red hair, and bright eyes brought back cherished memories of a girl with those same traits. He learned her name was Aileen after the very woman she was on her way to see, and she was going to be in Ireland for all of her summer break between high school and college. He told her only that he was visiting old friends.

When the plane touched down in Dublin, she helped him navigate the ramps, and he helped her with the sometimes-intimidating process of going through customs. They parted ways with a hug.

When she hurried off toward two women, one with hair the color of hers and the other a beaming elderly woman with hair of grey, Tommy relaxed with the knowledge she was safely in the arms of family. He leaned heavily on his cane and scanned the area for Shamus Doyle. He’d met Shamus almost a decade ago when Tommy had come to Ireland for the very same purpose he was here now. Shamus was a taxi driver who’d become a friend and kind-of surrogate son over time. Each year he took time off work to pick up Tommy and take him anywhere he needed to go. After the first couple years, they’d grown so close he’d invited Tommy to stay with him and his wife Molly each time he came.

The two men spotted each other at the same time and lifted hands in greeting. Shamus went to him pushing a wheelchair. He’d been uncertain about bringing it, afraid he’d offend the older man’s pride, but he was glad he had when he saw relief flit through his friend’s eyes.

Shamus wrapped an arm around Tommy’s shoulders and tried not to notice how thin he’d gotten. “Now I know you’re a strong, proud man, Tommy, but you’ve lived a good long while and the way I see it is you’re deserving of taking a load off when you can.”

Tommy flashed him a smile. “Right you are, Shamus. Right you are. Did you bring me a pint as well? I’ve built up quite a thirst on my journey.”

“I’m not sure I could get away with that even for the likes of you, Tommy O’Dell. We’ll stop at Manny’s place on the way to my home and get you one though. And a nice hot meal to boot. You’ll be longing for one of Donovan’s famous pastries I’m sure.”

They made the stop as promised. While they ate and drank and caught up with what had happened over the last year, people who’d come to know them both stopped to chat or extend the offer of another pint. Shamus drove them to his home where his wife Molly met them at the door, her pleasure at seeing Tommy again obvious in both her smile and the hug she folded him into.

∞∞∞∞∞∞

The next morning dawned sunny and clear. The beauty was marred though by a strong wind that blew its cold breath across the green hills and verdant valleys. Shamus and Molly sat at their small kitchen table talking quietly while their elderly guest slept.

Molly took a furtive glance toward the hallway that led to Tommy’s room before she spoke. “He seems so fragile this year, Shamus. Eighty-five is too old to be traipsing around and climbing over rocks and up hills to visit old ruins. Are you sure it’s wise to be making that trip today? It’s a cold wind that’s blowing out there.”

“I have to, Molls. Ya know I do.” Shamus shook his head, his expression sorrowful. “I agree with you about his condition, but going to the castle is why he’s here. Today is his Rose’s birthday, and he’ll be takin’ her flowers and spending a few hours talking to her just like he always does when he comes.”

“I don’t understand why he does it, though. She died at those ruins, Shamus. Such a terrible, terrible accident. And at such a young age too. They’d only been married a little over a year. She was just a child really, when you think about how young they married. How can it bring him any kind of joy to be there?” Tears shimmered in her blue-green eyes. “I hate it so much. I’ve come to love him just as if he were my own flesh and blood. We both have. We can’t let him do it. We just can’t.”

He stood and went to her, pulling her up and into an embrace. “You’re right, I do love him, and that’s exactly why I have to take him. He left Ireland after Rose died, Molly. Traveled the world and never settled. Never wed again. This one trip here a year for his Rose’s birthday is the only time he allows himself to come back to the homeland he loves.” A door creaked open down the hall and they looked into each other’s eyes. They both felt it. That sense of foreboding. A knowing that this trip was somehow different than the years before. Shamus used his thumbs to wipe the tears from Molly’s cheeks, then kissed her softly. “You’ve such a kind and caring heart, Molly me love, it’s one of the reasons I adore you the way I do. Now dry your tears and let’s make his beloved’s birthday as special as we can.”

Molly made a big breakfast of all the things Tommy enjoyed the most and kept the conversation lively and light. Both she and Shamus took every opportunity they could to let Tommy O’Dell know just how much they cared about him and how happy they were he’d become such an important part of their lives.

When the time came for them to leave, Molly hugged the old man’s thin form as tightly as she dared. “I love you, Tommy. I hope you and your Rose have a wonderful time today. I’ve packed you and Shamus a lunch and gathered up a big bunch of wildflowers for you to take. I’ll have a hot supper waiting when you get back.”

Tommy hugged her back with more strength than seemed possible. “I love ya too, lass. I’m more blessed than an old fool has any right to be. The two of you are like the children my Rose and I never were blessed with. I’ll be forever thankful for that day Shamus answered the call to the airport.” He kissed her cheek, then whispered so softly that only she could hear. “You take care of that wee babe you’re carrying, and if you’re of a mind to, name her Rose.”

Molly drew in a breath. How could he know? She hadn’t even told Shamus yet. The old man pulled back just a bit and winked. “Don’t you be worrying, I’ll be keepin’ your secret.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞

Shamus loaded the wheelchair into the trunk just in case, and then helped Tommy into the passenger seat before he hugged and kissed Molly.

“We’ll be back before nightfall. I love you.”

The trip to the ruins of the O’Dell castle was long and mostly on unpaved roads. Shamus kept a sharp eye on Tommy as he drove and they talked. The old man seemed even older and more fragile today than he had the day before.

When he’d driven as far as he was able, he turned off the car and went around to help Tommy out. He looked up at the ruins. All that remained now was a small bit of one wall and a single window. The hill to reach it, though not too steep, seemed like an impossible task for the man standing next to him.

“I’ve brought the chair, Tommy. It’ll take some work, but I can get you up the hill.”

Tommy patted Shamus’s shoulder. “You’re a good lad and your offer of help is appreciated, but this is something I need to do alone. I’ll make it just fine. Knowing my Rose is waiting for me up there will give me all the strength I need.”

Shamus nodded his understanding and pressed the bouquet of flowers Molly had gathered into the old man’s hand. “Right ya are, then you tell yer Rose happy birthday from me and Molly too. I’ll be waitin’ right here for you. If you find you haven’t the means to make it back down when you’re done just give a call out and I’ll come get you.”

Shamus watched Tommy’s progress up the hill with a heavy heart. He’d aged so much recently. His once erect and proud posture had become the bent-over stoop of an old man. Each June he came home to make this same trek up the hill to the ruins of his ancestral home. No one had lived in the place for years. Centuries probably. Time and vandals had slowly taken their toll on the once-grand castle. When he’d first started bringing him, there’d been parts of three walls each with their own glassless cathedral window and breathtaking view. Now all that remained was the small portion of one wall and its window.

He stood rigid, willing himself not to rush to Tommy’s side. To do so would do more harm than adding a decade to the man’s life. When Tommy finally made it to the top and sank down onto a low place in the wall, Shamus finally let out the breath he’d been holding. After a couple more minutes of making sure Tommy was set and safe, he went to the car, kicked back the seat, and closed his eyes. He’d take a short nap while Tommy talked to his Irish Rose.

∞∞∞∞∞∞

Shamus’s eyes shot open and the breath caught in his throat when the realization that night had truly and completely fallen filtered into his sleep-addled mind. When he leapt from the car, an unnatural wind, playful and full of odd energy, yanked at the legs of his trousers and took his cap on a merry jaunt across the grassy hill. Clouds skittered through the sky blotting out the stars and moon, then moving on only to be followed by more. Tommy! Good God in heaven, where was Tommy?

“Tommy?” The wind whipped his shouted words away. He raced up the hill stumbling over rocks and nearly breaking his ankles in unexpected dips. “Tommy, can you hear me? Where are you, man? Give us a shout out now so I can help you down from your blasted hill and into the warm car. Molly’s going to be worried sick about the both of us.”

The sound of laughter floated to him on a gust of wind, and small shadowy figures danced in and out of random moonbeams. Shamus shook his head to clear it, clinging to the certainty that sleep still dulled his senses, causing him to hear and see things that weren’t actually there. Damn this place. Why did that hard-headed old man insist on returning here year after year?

Shamus had spent his whole life in Ireland. Most of it here in the shadow and spell of the ruins of the O’Dell castle. He’d been raised up with a Mum and Aunties who’d prattered on and on about how the ruins were filled with magic and fairies and wee people who meddled in the lives of humans who dared to visit them. He’d listened when he’d been told not to as they’d spoken in quiet tones of restless spirits who walked the earth searching for lost loves or wreaking havoc on those who’d wronged them. There’d even been tales that at these ruins the veil between worlds was thin enough to cross. In his youth he’d mocked it all and gotten his ears boxed for the effort. As he’d grown, he’d learned to keep his mouth shut and then had done so until the day he was able to go off to university and be away from all their nonsense.

Laughter rolled over him again but this time there was a familiarity about it. He’d not heard it often, but he’d swear on his nan’s grave that the laughter was that of Tommy O’Dell. Oddly though, it wasn’t only the deep, rich tones of the old man he heard. There was a woman laughing with him, a bright and beautiful sound that warmed the heart. A sudden gust sent clouds over the moon and he had to fumble his way to the top of the hill in total darkness. He needed light to find the old man. Why had he not brought his phone? Not that there was any signal in these hills for him to call for help, but at least it had a flashlight on it. His foot hit something solid. No, solid wasn’t quite right because it wasn’t stone he’d run into. With his heart hammering in his chest, he knelt and reached out a hand. Tears instantly filled his eyes as he shook the shoulder he’d found.

“Tommy? Are you okay? Tommy, can you hear me?” He called to him, but he knew. He and Molly had felt the shift but neither had put a voice to the words.

He was suddenly surrounded by the titter of what seemed like hundreds of tiny voices and the tinkle of childlike laughter. Trepidation filled him and he shook the old man harder, tears now flowing freely down his cheeks. He froze when something feather-light landed on his shoulder.

“Open your eyes, Shamus Doyle. Believe. Tommy isn’t in that tired old shell you’re shaking anymore. Look up and rejoice. He’s with his Irish Rose at last and it is such a sight to behold.”

Shamus drew in an unsteady breath and looked up. The wind moved the clouds and a bright beam of moonlight illuminated the scene. There in the silvery path of light were a young and devilishly handsome Tommy O’Dell and his beautiful red-haired Rose dancing the jig Tommy had boasted about being so good at countless times over the years.

“Look Shamus,” Tommy called. “I’ve found her. My beautiful Rose. I told you she’d be waiting, now didn’t I. Still pretty as an Irish sunrise just like I told ya she was. I’ll be leavin’ you now Shamus. A million thanks to you for taking such good care of me and bringing me this one last time. May the path you walk be forever blessed. Farewell, my friend. Farewell. Give our love to Molly.”

They both waved and Tommy’s Rose blew him a kiss before they turned to walk the beam of light. Just as they were shimmering forms half of this world and half of the next, Tommy turned around one last time.

“It’s the magic, Shamus my boy. Always believe in the magic.”

And then they were gone, and the night grew still and quiet. Shamus stood there in the light of the moon staring after them with tears on his cheeks and his heart bursting with the freedom that only comes when one opens their heart to the impossible.

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Visit Rylee’s website at https://www.ryleeblackbooks.com!

D.L. Tillery – Where once we were

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

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

Where once we were

By D.L. Tillery

Through the window, I left you there, on that plain my heart laid bare.

Down the hillside my tears have run, like the blades of grass grow in sun…

What once was there yet far from you, I had a care though never fair

On the breeze our love once soared, never again, I’ve closed the door…

Yet here I am overwhelmed with thought, why did I give my heart?

Remove from me what we were,

like the stones have fallen away,

down and across the Everglades.

Wrapped in secret is the lie,

the one we’ve told and screamed to the sky,

where once we built that place called home

is nothing left but an old torn-down mess,

cold as stone. If I could go back to where

we were, I’d call for you again and again

though I know you’d never appear,

for you’ve long since passed away from here.

Now my eyes can no longer see…

Just as the place we once loved,

has come to be…

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Please visit D. L.’s website and follow her: www.authordltillery.wixsite.com/authorsite