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Calliope Njo: Found Memories

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! 

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Ahmed Gomaa from Pixabay

Found Memories

Calliope Njo 

Mom wanted to clean and sort through the house before Dad returned from his business trip. I had the dressers while she did the closet. “Just get rid of everything that doesn’t seem right. Whatever we need but don’t have anything of, well, I’ll pick that up tomorrow.”

I laughed. That didn’t seem right, because it left things wide open. Got rid of the single socks that lingered in the drawers. I didn’t even go into the underwear drawer. That left the nightclothes to sort through.

Socks without a partner and the nightclothes that had seen better nights got thrown out. About to open another drawer, a strange key got my attention.

A wooden tag with the number eighteen on it in gold letters and a skeleton key attached lay on the bottom of the sock drawer. I thought I went through everything, but I guess I didn’t.

The key had rust spots on it, with no markings. Nothing on it to identify where it came from. “Mom, do you know anything about a key?”

“If it doesn’t have a purpose, throw it out. There’s enough stuff in here as it is. Fifty-five years of collecting various items does take up a lot of space.”

I went back to my purse and dropped it in. Find out where it came from later.

Five big thirty-three-gallon bags sat full in the garage. I looked at them. “Do you want to know what’s in them? Did you want to see the key?”

“No. I don’t.” She yawned and stretched. “Two hours of doing this and I’m starved. Order us some food somewhere. You know what I like.” After ordering us a sandwich meal, I went back and joined Mom. She turned on the TV, flipping channels.

A quiet meal later, I got up and left. Mom nodded as she went to bed.

It seemed a long time in getting there, but I made it home. I got out the key to examine it. No writing of any kind anywhere on it. I wiggled it and something made a noise.

The bottom slid open to reveal a scrolled-up piece of paper about the size of a stir straw. The itty bitty writing made me get out the only magnifying glass I had. Good thing I didn’t throw it out.

“Death is but an end to an existence filled with pain. Fate called me sooner rather than later, therefore, as you read this I have passed away.” Oh, gee. I had no idea. Nothing else on it other than Green Hills.

It had been a day and I was ready to go to bed. The rest would be deciphered in the morning. What if it opened a giant bank safe or a safe deposit box full of jewels? What if? What if? What if I went to bed and dreamed about all of this instead.

The internet didn’t turn up anything. I got key designs and references for the number eighteen; nothing seemed to be relevant information. The only other source of information that existed in town was Old Man Horace. He knew everything about this town and then some. Nothing that could be found in any library or newspaper, either. He belonged to a family that made it their mission to know all the secrets, old or new. It didn’t matter.

I found his house and showed him the key. He smiled. “I have seen no keys like that for about forty years. Come in and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Most of his story had to do with his childhood and how he got into trouble for smoking and being caught in the car with the daughter of the postal worker. Sorting through that story, I remembered him mentioning an old safe area.

Under Green Hills, tunnels were dug to provide for a safe place to stay while the bombs dropped and guns fired. It was an undeveloped area without any plans until the government stepped in. Green Hills then turned into the military zone.

There were secret, safe closets that anyone could use as long as they were staying in the tunnels. The problem was if you wanted it, you were responsible for it. Nobody would take care of it for you.

However, it had been over seventy-five years since the war finished and they had not used it since then. The integrity of the tunnels was questionable. In order to find out what I got, I had to take that chance.

I got to the tunnels, but the military prevented me from doing anything. While they didn’t use the tunnels, per se, they were in their territory. So, how do I get to find out where that key led to?

Between this permit, that permit, this paperwork, and that person in this office that had to get word for that person over there, it took a good six months before I even could stand in front of the tunnel. By that time, summer changed to winter and snow blanketed the entrance. No one could help me. I was on my own.

All of that headache to get into the tunnels would last until the end of winter, which was around April. I could wait. Yup, the date said I could wait. Meanwhile, got together with Mom and Dad to see what we were doing for the holidays.

Spring couldn’t come soon enough. The snow melted, and there was an unobstructed view into the tunnels at last. I could go in. I had to show all of that paperwork, but I could go in.

Old Man Horace mentioned that the safe rooms were straight ahead. Not to be fooled by the off tunnels. Stay on track and I would find them.

Once I got past the entrance, I was so… no words could explain. Bunk beds, chests, munitions, boxes, and some old skeletons that never made it home. It was like stepping through a time machine.

There were some signs still up. One I thought read Communications, but a few letters were missing, and the one next to it was the Commander’s Office. A few steps away and a door without a label. The door opened so I peeked inside. Body bags filled the room. All of those people still left behind. My personal mission didn’t seem so important anymore. If only there was a way. There had to be. Right?

I almost tripped over a rock. That brought my attention back to that key in my hand. I got to the end of the tunnel. S with Room after it. It had to be it.

All of that rust on the latch and it might fall apart if I touched it. A slight gust of wind blew behind me.

“What? Who’s there?” I looked around. “I promise. I’m only here to find out about my key.”

Almost as if some force came to life, the door opened and a light turned on. I swallowed past that giant ball in my throat to be able to squeak out an apology and a thank you. Number eighteen was against the right wall on the ground. A big chest, like the ones towards the front of the tunnels. Number three next to it sat there and it felt like it dared me to open it. Number fifty on the other side.

My hand shook so much it rattled the key chain. I switched hands to be able to unlock it. In the box, a key for number three and number fifty.

Number three held land deeds and financial information as well as a few bars of gold. Number fifty was the real treasure. All kinds of books filled the box.

I closed and locked each of them before I left so I could get help to get them out. Mom and Dad laughed when I told them what happened. They said I made it up. There were all kinds of stories like that. Most of them didn’t turn out to be anything.

Out of desperation, I went back to Old Man Horace and asked if he knew anyone. That’s when he smiled and patted me on the shoulder. A few minutes after that, three men came out with a wheelbarrow and portable wheels attached to a platform to make it easier to move.

We got everything out all right. Of course, the military needed to inspect what we removed so that we didn’t remove anything we couldn’t. Once that was cleared, everything was loaded up and brought to my house.

The woman’s name was Arabel Margaret Fitzpatrick, born in Scotland before moving to the US when she was still a baby in 1923. That was where her life began. I read all those books and tried to share them with Mom.

She pushed them away. “I hate any kind of history. That woman—just go put them where they belong. Poor family forgot they had any relatives in those godforsaken tunnels. They closed those down years ago. You must’ve bribed someone to be able to get those. Get away from me with those things. I’ve got more cleaning to do before your father gets home.” She looked at her watch. “I don’t have time now. It’ll have to wait. Just go do what you’ve been told.”

I had every intention of sharing these with her but based on that, I had no choice but to go home. The military didn’t want to have anything to do with them. If they did, they wouldn’t have been there.

I found a seat on my sofa and thought about everything. That woman was Mom’s grandmother. Mom always told me she didn’t have one because she died before she was even born. I tried to find a way to tell Mom, but unless she was willing, it wouldn’t do any good.

Dad came home and it was a Sunday. That meant Mom would be doing housework while Dad would be watching something on TV.

I got there about mid-morning. Lucky for me the garage door was open with her hovering over the washer and dryer. I looked at the piles of books in the backseat. There was always hope.

I had to try one last time. “Mom? I’d like to show you something.”

“Nope. Don’t need nothing,” she said, as she loaded the washer. “My house is spick and span. Your dad is home. Whatever it is, don’t want it. So unless you came here to tell me I won the lottery, I don’t want to hear it. That’s final. So stop this stupidity before I get angry and slap you.” She turned around and went back into the house. The door slammed after her.

I couldn’t say anything. I was dumbstruck by Mom’s hostility. All of those books had to mean something. It had to do with her because her name was in it. I turned around and went back to my car.

I took them to the only other person who might want them, and he was so happy to receive them. About to leave, he called me over.

I couldn’t help but look up to him. “Yeah?”

“Do you know who this woman was?” He smiled.

“Arabel Margaret Fitzpatrick.”

He nodded and smiled. Something had to be up and I was missing it. “That woman was in charge of the children during the war. She educated them and made sure they were healthy. She did a lot during the time they had to hunker down in the tunnels. I’m only sorry she had to leave her daughter behind.”

“What are you talking about?” Nothing like this was ever mentioned in the diaries.

“Her husband died. She had nothing. No money or a home. Her family died in an explosion. She left her daughter on the doorstep of a church in the hopes they would take care of her. It’s also said that her daughter tried to get in touch with her, but she was always turned away. Arabel died a lonely old woman. She was supposed to be rich, but how much she had or even where she got it nobody knew.”

Could that be why? Could that have been Mom trying to connect with her grandmother, but every move she made was rejected? Mom wouldn’t give me an answer and she made it clear she didn’t want to hear it.

I thanked Old Man Horace and made a mental note to get him a basket for Christmas. I knew he loved fine wine and good food.

I turned on the radio which allowed me to think. I’ve read those diaries so many times I knew them by heart. I couldn’t think of any passage that even mentioned anything about her own kids.

Time heals all wounds, and I could only hope that with time, Mom would go back to having a sense of humor that was a little off. Work, home, and the occasional outing with friends was how I spent my time while I hoped the phone would ring.

Maybe it never would but I couldn’t give up hope. I talked to Dad a lot. He told me he was working on it but he couldn’t promise anything.

I sought out the properties and they were gorgeous with green hills and big trees. Mother Nature at her best. I thought about getting rid of the gold bars but I didn’t know how. I made arrangements with my bank to help keep them safe.

The one thing I wanted but couldn’t get was for Mom to let go. I wouldn’t give up as long as she was alive.

One more time, I had to try. Mom was home and in the kitchen. I smelled onions and garlic which could mean she was getting ready to cook a pot roast. I stood there and watched, almost regretting what I wanted to do.

“Mom? We need to talk.”

She stirred something and turned a burner off. “All right. Out with it. As you saw, I’m busy so make it snappy.”

Here went everything. “I really think you should consider at least reading one of those diaries. They might—”

I never saw it coming. My cheek stung for what seemed like forever. The pulsing made it worse. “Why?”

“For being stupid. I told you I don’t want nothing to do with anything. That slap might help your pea brain to work, Missy. Now either shut up about it and get the table ready or get out. I’m sick of you trying to bring it up.”

I turned around and walked out. Rivers of tears flowed down my face. All I wanted to do was to show her what I found. It might have given her hope.

I remembered a line from one of them that read, “When all went dark and black, death could be felt all over. There was a difference between dark and black because one could happen without the other. It had to do with the presence of death. As long as he was there, it would always be black. Darkness only existed because there was no light.”

I pulled into my parking spot and turned off the engine. “Don’t worry, Mom. This was only a setback. I can lead you out.”

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

Kenneth Lawson: Key Eighteen

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! 

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Ahmed Gomaa from Pixabay

Key Eighteen

Kenneth Lawson

The key for the door to vault eighteen had been missing for centuries. It was the last of the old vault rooms in the castle anyone had explored. The solid wood planks and steel reinforcements had made forcing the door impossible, and no one tried despite the legend that there was a fortune in treasure behind the door. A whispered legend of crown jewels his family had kept safe for the monarchy. 

A nobleman named Lord Jonathon Rice ordered the castle built upon his marriage to Lady Willmont sometime during the late sixteen hundreds. As the current Lord Rice, the Fifth Earl of Riceland, I inherited the castle decades ago. 

When I first inherited the estate, I eagerly explored the castle. A handyman had found a stash of keys buried behind debris and farm equipment in an old barn. After discovering some of the keys opened the vaults, I was confident I would find the long-lost treasure. As confident as I could be with no proof the treasure existed. 

Over the years, I had the vaults opened and explored, only to find wine or foodstuffs such as honey that were long past use. Among the finds were some valuable pieces of armor, but the vaults held nothing of real value for the most part. Although with only one vault left to explore, I gave up. The odds of that vault containing the legendary treasure were unlikely.

I concentrated on the repair and upkeep, which proved more expensive than I could afford. While the sheep herd and sale of raw wool helped some, lack of adequate funds forced me to put off much-needed repairs and cut staff. There was a real danger that I would have to sign the estate over to the government for back taxes or open the estate to the public for tours. 

Opening the estate to visitors wasn’t entirely a bad arrangement as doing so would provide the resources for restoration. Support from the government was available for upkeep and staff, at least concerning the public tours. However, it was an idea that I loathed. If I could, I wanted to keep Rice castle private as long as possible, but each year the prospects looked dimmer and dimmer.

So I fought back the debtors as best I could to try and find funds to keep the estate going. In my quest, I became obsessed with the possibility that perhaps the treasure the family legend spoke of was in vault eighteen, the only vault we couldn’t open. 

There were precisely three thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven books dating back to the seventeenth century in the library. A few were valuable enough that they were on loan to libraries and museums, but most were ordinary books from over the years. Each volume was removed from the shelves, cataloged, and inventoried in the search for the Vault Eighteen key but found no reference. 

I was aware that the likelihood of finding anything of value there was slim and none, but there was little to lose, so I created a plan to open the vault. After the door was open and if I found nothing, I would start the sale of the estate to the government. 

***

The night before we attempted to force the vault door, I went to the dark-paneled library and poured myself a drink from the small bar. As I wandered to my favorite leather chair next to the fireplace and began to sit, I noticed a small gap in a section of paneling that filled the space between the bookcases, one I had never noticed. I used the library as my office, and yet, as many hours as I had spent there, I never saw that crack. 

Tumbler in hand, I examined the crack in the paneling. The gap did not look fresh as if someone had recently tried to pry it open. The edges were aged as the other wood was from decades of exposure. 

Gently I placed a fingertip against the edge and pressed lightly. The panel seemed to move ever so slightly. What? Wiggling my finger into the crack, I pushed with a bit more effort. The panel slid open a bit more, and my skin prickled as I kept pressing, and a tall narrow opening revealed itself. I grabbed a torch from a cabinet and bent to examine the hole more closely. There were no tool marks to indicate someone cut the gap in the panel. It had to be original. 

There were several more of the panels in the frames of the shelves. I tested each, discovering they didn’t move. Only the one panel slid just enough to reveal a small hiding spot. 

I shined my flashlight into the hole and thought I saw a glint in the reflection that seemed to go back to the back wall of the shelves. Yes—there was something in there. A key? 

Poking around in my desk drawers, I found an old T-square ruler. I slid a chair next to the shelves and sat, where I would be at eye level with the gap. Light from the flashlight revealed there was something metallic in there. 

“Okay, here it goes.” I jiggled the ruler around and managed to get the crossed end over the object, and started gently easing it forward toward me. I dropped the torch as the object fell to the floor.

Key eighteen lay bathed in torchlight.

I sank back into the chair and stared at the floor, not moving. My eyes wandered from the key on the floor to the small compartment hidden in the bookcase. How no one had noticed the crack for all these years was a surprise.

I realized I wasn’t breathing and forced myself to inhale and exhale until my breathing and pulse returned to normal, and started to think again. I looked over the key in the light of my ancient desk lamp. Comparing it with the other keys, it was indeed one of the original keys from the collection. But this was the missing key.

It was late, but I couldn’t wait. Grabbing the torch, I hurried through the halls until I reached the door to the dungeon stairs. I paused, my heart pounding. All hinged on what was in that vault.

The catacombs were dank, and the narrow torch beam was swallowed in the darkness. I made my way to vault eighteen. The heavy wood and steel-clad door seemed more ominous than before. Holding my breath, I inserted the key. 

It wouldn’t budge. 

I tried and tried, but I couldn’t get the key to turn. After frustrating myself and fearful that I would break the key, I decided to wait for morning. I would call a locksmith to open the lock. I didn’t sleep well that night. 

***

At seven a.m. the following day, I called a locksmith from the nearest town, and he arrived by eight o’clock. He was angry at my insistence that he come immediately but happy for the extra money I paid him to get there. I was only hoping I wasn’t spending my dwindling funds on a lost cause.

He examined the lock and the key, cleaning out the door lock of dirt and debris from years of nonuse. He filed rough edges from the key and liberally oiled both. He handed me the key, and I inserted it in the lock. 

I wiggled the key, feeling the pressure in my fingertips. I held my breath as the resistance gave way and, with a metallic click, the door unlocked.

I thanked the locksmith and dismissed him. I was going to see what was in that chamber without other prying eyes.

Alone, it took all of my might to swing the door, with its rusted hinges, open. The smell of three-hundred-year-old stale air hit me, and I gagged. Stepping back to let the room air out, I swung the flashlight around the interior. 

I waited for a few minutes then stepped into the room. The smell of centuries-old stale air was oppressive, but I could breathe. The room was larger than the other vaults had been, and there were no windows in the room—the only light coming from my torch.

Centuries of family lore hinted at a treasure worth a fortune. Stories told of a valuable find by Lord Jonathon Rice during the seventeen hundreds. Now three hundred years later, I was standing in vault eighteen to discover if the legend was real.

There was only one thing in the chamber—a table in the center of the room with a wooden casket sitting on top.

It dawned on me to take pictures, so I pulled my mobile from my pocket and took a flash photo. The amount of dust settled on the casket obscured the top, and I brushed it away only to sneeze and gag for a few minutes until I could get my breath. Once the dust settled a bit, I took more photos. 

The box’s lid contained a burled wood inlay and a pattern in what shone like gold-embedded wood. I recognized that pattern as I had seen it many times before in the house. It was the family coat of arms. 

Running my fingers along the top, I realized there were no latches. I tried to raise the cover, but it was too tight. I searched my pocket for the small knife I always carried, and I slid it around the seam until the lid loosened. 

My heart pounded in my chest, my fingers trembling as I touched the lid. I was about to see if the stories of the family hiding a set of crown jewels were true. What if there was a second set? Was the original Lord Rice charged with keeping a reserve set of jewels, a way of keeping them safe from those who would overthrow a king? Or was the legend a fairy tale like Peter Pan or St. Nicholas?

I had my answer when I lifted the lid. The narrow beam of light from my torch shone on a large purple velvet bag, drawn shut with a gold cord—a wax seal with the royal crest securing the cord’s knot. 

***

I rushed upstairs carrying the casket and yelled for my wife. Lady Dinah came running into the library. 

“What is going on?”

“I found the key to vault eighteen. I couldn’t get the lock open last night, so I called a locksmith and,” he removed the cover, “look.”

She peered into the box, and the color drained from her face. “Oh my, that is the royal crest. You found that in the vault?”

“Yes.” My wife breathed quietly as I gently lifted it from the box. Someone slid the box out from under the bag as I lifted it.

“I think so, hon.” I could barely breathe as I set it down. 

“We shouldn’t open it. You should call James. He will know what to do.”

I agreed and placed the call to James Marsan, our attorney, who decided it was best to have someone from the government present. They arrived at three in the afternoon. 

My wife and I escorted our attorney and three representatives from the government and the Queen to the library, where the box sat on the stately family library table. 

As soon as the Queen’s representative saw the royal crest on the wax seal, he smiled. “We have known that in the seventeen hundreds, the then monarch commissioned a duplicate set of the crown jewels, St. Edward’s Crown and the Sovereign’s Orb, out of fear that if the monarchy were overthrown, the rightful heir would be king or queen by possessing these crown jewels. It may have been a foolish thought, but if that velvet bag contains those two items, it would be the greatest find in English history.”

After documenting the bag, the crown’s representative instructed me to cut through the cord, leaving the wax seal intact. Carefully, I pulled the bag away from the contents. 

Before us sat the duplicate crown and orb, the Crown Jewels. 

To say that our lives changed forever at that moment is an understatement. Due to public interest, the government placed the estate on the historical places registry and funded all renovations. As the true Crown Jewels were safe, safely tucked in the Tower of London, these jewels were on display for all to see—for a fee, of course. 

To my surprise, I found that I have enjoyed escorting strangers through the estate, especially to my favorite stops, the library and vault eighteen. However, I found my deepest satisfaction when the visitors entered the parlor where the jewels are displayed. As they viewed the crown and orb for the first time, their eyes widened in awe— just as mine did.

Thank goodness, I found that key. 

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

D. A. Ratliff: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

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! 

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Ahmed Gomaa from Pixabay

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

D. A. Ratliff

“To sleep, perchance to dream,” Hamlet act 3, scene 1.
–William Shakespheare

Screams wafted through the darkened passageway deep within the catacombs. A man held a struggling young girl by the arms, dragging her toward a grimy wooden door crisscrossed with bands of iron.

“Let me go. I won’t tell.” She pulled against the man’s grasp but was not strong enough to break free.

The sharp sound of a slap echoed through the narrow hall. “Shut up.” The man jerked her toward the door where another person stood, a key chain dangling from an outstretched hand.

The girl resisted. “Please, don’t put me in there. I won’t tell, I won’t.”

As the key slipped into the lock, the person turned to her with a gaze of pure evil. “You should have thought about that before you decided to snoop.”

The man shoved her into a darkened chamber, and as the door clanged shut, her screams faded into silence.

Six Months Later

Bethany Monroe slid her ID into the gate access box next to the massive wrought-iron gates leading to Brentwood Manor. She passed through the gates and followed the curved treelined drive toward the staff residence hall, surprised at her rising trepidation. She served as Head Teacher at the British boarding school for the past five years, living in the residential quarters during the school year. Now, after an absence of eight months, she was returning.

Beth parked under the portico at the staff entrance and wondered if coming back had been the right thing to do. The air held the mossy scent of the Scottish Highlands and, for a moment, she felt like she was home. But home was a suburb of Chicago where her mother remained, recuperating.

As she opened the car trunk to remove her suitcases, a familiar voice rang out. She turned to see Angus, the head of maintenance for the school, coming out of the building.

“Dr. Monroe, so glad to have you back, lassie.” She had missed his thick Scottish brogue.

“Good to see you, Angus, and please call me Beth.”

“Would nae be right. Let me get your bags for you.”

Later in the afternoon, Beth was unpacking when a knock sounded on her door. She froze, no doubt in her mind who it was—the new headmistress of the school, Veronica Peyton. She walked to the door and took a deep breath before she opened it.

“Beth, how wonderful to have you back.”

“Veronica, it is good to be back. Come in.”

Her guest walked into Beth’s suite and took a seat on the couch. “How is your mother?”

“Doing very well. Quite the scare, but surgery was successful, brain tumor is gone, and she is now cancer free.”

“And rehabilitation went well?”

“Yes, she is, according to her physical therapist, about ninety percent, and still improving.”

“That’s wonderful.” Peyton paused, never taking her eyes off Beth. “I wanted to let you know about the changes that occurred since your leave of absence.”

“Congratulations on your promotion to headmistress.”

“Thank you. I would have preferred it under better circumstances. Dr. MacTavish’s death was a challenging time. The staff appreciated your kindness in sending notes and flowers. I know you wish you had been here.”

Beth listened to Veronica’s words, but the woman’s eyes lacked sincerity. “I am sure it was very difficult for everyone.”

“About the changes. Our relationship with the government is somewhat different than when you were here. The minister wanted us to be less selective in choosing orphans for admission to our program. While the girls with strong academic promise are still our priority, we have instituted a new program where these additional students come to stay with us for a basic education prior to adoption. Most will be from eight to sixteen years old. It’s a pilot program that we hope will assist in faster adoption for the girls. We instituted the program shortly after you left, and it has shown great success.”

“I look forward to seeing the curriculum offered in the program and getting to know the students.”

Veronica opened her mouth, hesitated, and then spoke. “Doctor Hugo Cordova is the director of the new project and hired his staff. He does not fall under your supervision. You have accomplished so much with our gifted students that we chose not to divert your focus.” She stood. “I must attend to some things. I will see you at seven in the dining hall.”

~~~

Dinner was both a wonderful experience and an unsettling one. While it was wonderful to see the teachers and staff she had missed, she sensed tension among them. Maybe it was her uneasiness, but something was wrong.

The following morning, she entered her office, opened the window, and gazed at the beautiful heather-strewn Scottish moor. The sweet fragrance of the lavender and rosy-pink blossoms was pleasant, and the soft buzz of bees collecting nectar and a slight breeze was soothing.

The students were on a two-day trip to a seaside resort before the autumn session began, and the school was too quiet for her taste. She loved the laughter emanating from the hallways as the girls changed classes. She had chosen to accept the headteacher position for this unique project because she believed that so many orphans did not receive the opportunities to succeed in life, especially those in their teens who had little chance of adoption.

She pried herself from the window and sat down to look over the student records, but the uneasiness she experienced earlier returned. Something was different about the school.

The students returned to Brentwood in time for their dinner at six p.m. Beth usually ate with them at least twice a week and always at breakfast on Saturdays. She wanted to let them know she was accessible without being too familiar. She held a soft spot for a few girls but tried not to show favorites. It wasn’t easy when it came to Cassie Cameron.

Cassie was born in Glasgow to a drug-addicted mother and a father she never knew. Her mother died of an overdose when she was five, and the local council agency sent her to an orphanage that did little but keep the children fed and clothed and barely warm.

As headteacher, Beth participated in the selection of students. They had tested the children at Cassie’s orphanage, and the lively then ten-year-old had charmed her even before they received the results of her evaluations. The cheerful redhead was bright but also street savvy and a formidable challenge. Cassie had become her best student and her greatest joy to teach.

Before she left after learning of her mother’s diagnosis, she told Cassie that because of the school’s policies of no outside communication, she would be out of touch but would think about her. As she entered the dining room, she scanned the students, anxious to see Cassie, but she wasn’t among them.

She hurried to the teacher’s table to ask about Cassie. One look at Marion Langford’s face as she approached the head math teacher told her everything.

“Where is she?”

“Beth, I…” Marion lowered her voice, “I wish we could have told you, but Peyton asked us not to say anything. According to Peyton, she was adopted, but we know nothing more.”

“Adopted? Why wouldn’t they tell you? Why didn’t they tell you?” Beth felt panic rising, and she fought to keep it back. Cassie would have let her know she was no longer at the school. Where was she?

Marion grabbed her hand. “I don’t know why but she’s been gone for six months now. And no one speaks about her.”

Before she could ask more questions, several of the students rushed to greet her. Her heart pounded with fear. She didn’t believe the story about Cassie’s adoption.

The girls returned to their dorms at curfew, and Beth returned to her suite in the staff residence. She opened her door and slipped as she stepped on an envelope. She sat on the couch and opened the note.

All is not what it seems. We do not believe Cassie was adopted. We contacted the police, and the detective spoke to Peyton, said there was documentation of her adoption, but we do not trust Peyton. She warned us not to speak of Cassie and not have contact with the girls in their new program. You weren’t here, and they probably think you don’t know anything about this and may not be concerned about you. You must stop them and save her. Talk to DI Colson. Strange things are going on during the night, but we are afraid to search. You are the only hope for them all. We will be in touch.

Tears welled in Beth’s eyes as she fought to maintain control. She had to keep in control, just as she did when her mother was so ill. Cassie and the other girls were in danger.

~~~

After a restless night, Beth stopped by the dining hall early, grabbing coffee and a scone. She had little appetite for food and less for seeing anyone while she prepared to attend the first faculty meeting of the Autumn term. Since reading the note left for her, her nerves were raw, but she needed to remain outwardly calm despite the rage that boiled within her.

She needed to think things through—find out Peyton’s story about Cassie first, then contact the detective. Fear gnawed at her. What was happening at the school?

She walked into the faculty meeting as Peyton started talking. The director glanced at her, and Beth scoffed. Peyton’s gaze was cold as if she were not happy to see her. That made two of them. If only Dr. MacTavish hadn’t died so unexpectedly. He wouldn’t have let this happen.

After the meeting, Beth approached Peyton. “Doctor, a question if you don’t mind.”

“Certainly.”

“I noticed Cassie Cameron is not here, and the girls told me that she was adopted. That’s wonderful. I would love to talk to her and see how she is doing. Could you get me her address?”

Peyton’s eyes dilated, and Beth’s blood ran cold. “I’m sorry. Since you were gone, we have instituted a policy that prohibits any contact by faculty and staff with former students. We feel these children need to get on with their new lives without reminders of their past.” The director once again smiled with cold eyes. “So glad to have you back, Dr. Monroe. I hope you find our new policies satisfactory.”

As Peyton walked away, Beth seethed. She had never trusted that woman, and she wasn’t about to do so now. She needed to talk to DI Colson.

~~~

The school was located five miles from Glasgow, and she had arranged to meet the detective at a pub on the outskirts of town along the River Clyde. She parked her white Mini Hatch in the car park and entered the pub. It was three in the afternoon, and only a few patrons were at the bar. The lone man at the corner table wearing a suit must be Coulson.

“Detective?”

He looked up from his phone. “Yes, and you are Dr. Monroe?”

She nodded and sat down. “Detective, thank you for speaking with me. I realize I might sound delusional, but something is wrong at the school. I know you looked into Cassie’s disappearance.”

“You are American?”

“Yes, I was impressed by the program here, helping these young women with little support to obtain a better education, so I applied. I hope to start this program in the US at some point.”

“Commendable, Doctor. What I found was that all indications are she was adopted.”

“I don’t believe that.”

Coulson stared at her for a moment, then nodded. “Since you called me, I called in some favors.” He leaned forward. “I should have done this before. There are no records of an adoption taking place other than the documents Peyton showed me.”

“None?”

“No, those documents were likely fake. I’m sorry, but I’m looking into this now.”

“There are some things you should know.” 

Beth told him about the new program for the less gifted orphaned girls and the note she received. Coulson promised to stay in touch and gave her his mobile number. As she drove back to the school, she decided it was time she did some investigation on her own.

~~~

Another note was under her door when she returned from dinner that evening. Her fingers shaking, she tore open the envelope.

Peyton was watching when you left this afternoon. She has eyes everywhere. Be careful. We noticed cars arriving at the service entrance around midnight but couldn’t get a good view to see what was happening. Students go missing, and more show up. These girls are in danger.

Beth’s hands continued to shake as she collapsed on a chair. She was right. It was time to do a bit of snooping.

Near midnight, she slipped a black knit cap on her head and momentarily panicked as she caught her image in the dresser mirror. What in heaven’s name was she thinking? Nothing brilliant about a teacher dressed in all black and about to go sneaking through the school. Some job description.

She made her way down the back stairs from the staff residence toward the kitchen and laundry wing, the eerie silence broken by the soft footfalls of her rubber-soled shoes. She slipped into the kitchen and hid behind a storage rack. Peering between the canisters of flour, sugar, and other staples, she watched the service entrance.

A door creaked, and she froze. Someone was coming. She ducked a bit lower, hoping no one would spot her, and chills shuddered through her body as the door to the walk-in pantry opened. One of the new teachers led four girls out of the pantry and through the service door. The faint hum of a car engine drifted into the kitchen, then the clunk of a car door. As she stretched to get a better look, a strong hand clamped across her mouth as an arm wrapped around her and dragged her into a storage closet.

“Shhhh. Be quiet.” The whispered brogue belonged to Angus, who pulled his hand from her mouth. “They will come into the kitchen to get a snack. They do it each night. Listen, but do not move.” A door closed and voices drifted toward them.

“Nice haul tonight. Those four will bring us a pretty penny. Want an ice cream sandwich. I love this place, free food, a nice place to sleep, and we get to play teachers and get ice cream when we want it.” The woman laughed. “Did I mention we are making a fortune?”

The other person laughed. “That we are.”

She knew that voice. She had just met him last night—Dr. Hugo Cordova. The woman with was one of the newly hired staff working on the project. Obviously, not a teacher.

The voices drifted away, and after a couple of minutes, Angus spoke. “I was repairing a light fixture in the wing where they are keeping the new lassies. I heard Cordova say the transport will be here at midnight and to take the kids to the service entrance. I’ve been here for two hours. I don’t know where those girls came from, but they didn’t come in through the kitchen.”

He opened the door a crack. “Looks clear. Get back to your room. Act like nothing’s wrong tomorrow. I’m gonna check to see if I can find where those girls came from.”

Emotionally exhausted, Beth stumbled as she entered her suite, knocking over a stack of books. She flipped on the light, and as she bent to pick up the books, her eyes fell on a copy of Hamlet. A copy she had loaned to Cassie, who had an affinity for the Bard. Flipping through the pages to find Cassie’s favorite passage. “To sleep, perchance to dream.”

They had discussed its meaning, and Cassie had thought a moment before she spoke. “Dr. Monroe, there was a time when I was very young that I thought dying would be better than living in an orphanage. But you gave me hope, and living is much better.”

Beth hugged the book to her chest. Cassie was going to live.

 ~~~

The next day found Beth nervous but pushing through the first day of class. Back in her office, she tackled the daily paperwork, but her mind was elsewhere.

At dinner, she sat with her fellow teachers trying not to stare at Cordova and his group. Turning down an invitation to watch a movie with the staff, she walked alone toward the staircase. As she passed a hallway jutting off the main corridor, Angus called her name. Startled, she turned toward him.

“Meet me at ten p.m. in the kitchen.” He spun and darted down the hall.

 ~~~

Beth could barely breathe as she made her way to the kitchen. She attempted to control her growing apprehension but had to bite her tongue when Angus and Marion Langford appeared through a doorway.

“Marion, you?”

“Yes, sorry, I wanted to tell you, but we were too afraid.”

Angus held up a key. “I searched the pantry. Found a hidden door behind the shelving and this key hanging on a hook just inside. There’s a stairwell leading down.”

Marion grabbed her arm. “I looked in the archives. There were dungeons below the school from when it was a manor house. Cassie might be there.”

“Ms. Langford, you stay here to keep an eye out for them. You want to come with me, Dr. Monroe?”

“Yes, I do. Marion, have your mobile?” She nodded. “This is DI Coulson’s phone number. If something happens, call him.”

Angus lit a flashlight, and they descended the worn stone stairs, the air becoming increasingly damp and musty. The light illuminated thick cobwebs and dust on the rough stone walls. At the base of the stairs, passageways extended in three directions.

“Where to, Angus?”

“We’re gonna have to guess.”

The first corridor they went down was a dead end, but there were heavy steel doors, all with padlocks. Shining the light on the locks, Angus gave a low whistle.

“Look, number seven is etched in the brass.” He held the key in the light. The heavy wood dumbbell-shaped key fob held the number eighteen etched into it.

It took several minutes before they found the door with eighteen scratched into it. Beth held her breath as Angus tried the key. He swung the heavy door open and shined the light through the opening. Cassie was lying on an old cot, noticeably thinner, clothes tattered and dirty, her face pale with dark circles under her eyes. Beth rushed to her.

“You’re alive. Thank goodness. Let’s get you out of here.”

A cry from Oscar and a thud spun Beth around. Doctor Peyton stood in the doorway, Cordova behind her. “Oh, you aren’t going anywhere.” The door clanged shut, leaving Cassie and Beth in the dark. Cassie fumbled for a camping lamp and turned it on.

Cassie sobbed. “I am so sorry. I overheard them. They are selling the girls to someone. I wasn’t careful, and they found me. They didn’t know what to do with me, so they threw me in here.”

“It’s okay. We’ll get out of this.” Beth held the trembling girl as they waited in the dark.

~~~

Cassie drifted to sleep, and Beth, her mind reeling, hoped Marion had gotten to Coulson. She forced her breathing to slow so that she would remain calm. Muffled noises from the hallway roused them both. Beth held Cassie behind her as the door opened.

She sagged with relief. It was DI Coulson.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes. We’re fine. Angus?”

“Has a lump on the head, but he’s all right.”

“The students. Were they trafficking them?”

“No, at least, not in the way you thought. Cordova and Peyton were selling illegal adoptions. Cordova is already spilling his guts, so we hope we can find all of the girls. Come on, you two, let’s get you upstairs out of this cold.”

As they walked up the stairs, Cassie stopped. “Dr. Monroe, do you remember that passage from Hamlet that I loved?”

Beth smiled. “I do.”

“I don’t want to sleep and dream forever. I want to live.”

Beth hugged her. “And live you will.”

Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com/

Lynn Miclea: Finding Safety

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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Finding Safety

Lynn Miclea

Brad shook his head. How could he have let this happen? How could he have been so careless? So stupid? Being a detective, he should have known better. He knew to trust his instincts. And he should never have trusted James. That was his one mistake. But it was too late now.

He inspected the room he was in, his eyes roaming over the old, dirty, beige walls and the one small window covered with metal bars. How would he get out now? No matter what it took, he had to find a way to escape. And he had to find Abigail and Raymond. He would never forgive himself if they were hurt.

Where did they take Abigail? They had grabbed her only because of him. Sweet Abby didn’t deserve this. He had been assigned to protect her from her ex, and he had been so careful for months. Then he let his guard down and trusted the wrong man. And now she was in even more danger because of him. And the guys who grabbed her had nothing to do with her ex — they were just using her to get to him. Anger and helplessness burned in him. Those guys didn’t care who they hurt. If he could just …

His throat constricted as he pictured her, her long auburn hair flowing in waves down her back and her intense green eyes always filled with trust. His stomach churned as he realized that in addition to putting her in danger and letting her down, he was slowly falling in love with her. She had better be okay. If they had hurt her in any way…

He pictured her holding her son, Raymond. The boy was only three years old — the sweetest boy he ever knew. With a head full of curly red hair, he was a gentle, shy, innocent boy. He did not deserve any of this. His fists tensed with rage. He had to find them.

He stared at the door. He had tried the doorknob numerous times, but it was locked on his side. There had to be some way to get out. As he stared, his mind thinking over possible strategies, footsteps echoed in the hallway outside the room and then slowed and stopped outside his door.

He held his breath as he saw the doorknob turn.

The door slowly opened, creaking as it moved.

James stood there — the man who had betrayed him. The man who had brought him here.

“Here,” James stated, holding out a small tray. “I brought food. Lucky man, you get to eat today.”

Brad stared at him. “What do you want from me?”

James stood there in silence a few moments. “Eat first. We can talk later.”

“No. I want to know what you want.”

James’s face grew tense. “We need information.”

“What information?”

James paused. “Who do you work for?”

Brad inched closer to James. “I work for no one. Just myself.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Where is Abby?”

James hesitated. “She is safe. For now.”

“Where?”

James did not respond and started to put the tray on the floor.

“Where is Raymond? Is he safe? If you hurt them in any way …”

James held out the tray again. “Do you want the food or not?”

Brad reached forward and his fingers grasped the tray. Within seconds, he grabbed the tray and smashed it into James’s face. Stunned, James stepped backward but quickly recovered and thrust a powerful side kick at Brad. Brad swiftly dodged the kick and, before James could regroup, rushed forward and threw a slew of powerful punches into James’s face. James punched back, landing a solid blow in his side. Ignoring the pain and focused on his target, Brad threw an uppercut into James’s jaw, and James’s head snapped back. James’s legs slowly gave out, and he crumpled to the floor.

Brad quickly kneeled down and checked James’s pockets. One set of keys. To what? He wasn’t sure, but it might come in handy, and he put them in his pocket.

Brad eased to the door and cautiously peered out. The hallway was empty.

Remembering how he was brought in, he turned right and stealthily crept down the hallway, paused at another hallway, then turned right and quickly but silently walked to the end. A small entryway on the left showed an exit door. Would it open? Was it locked? Was it alarmed? He knew he would not get another chance.

He pushed on the bar, and it gave way. The door eased open, and he flew out and started running down the dirt road. Breathing hard, he raced down the road as it curved past an old tree and then went past a run-down motel.

Wait. Something clicked in his mind — the key. He took out the key that he had taken from James. The number 18 was written on it. Room 18? At the motel? It couldn’t hurt to try. It would be convenient for them to put Abby and Raymond there, so it was a possibility. And that would be a lucky break for him. He hoped that would be the case.

Scanning the room numbers, he saw that room 18 was toward the far end. He could not waste time. They would be on his tail any moment.

He hurried to the room and eased the key into the lock. It fit. His heart pounding in his chest, he unlocked the door to room 18 and opened it.

Shutting the door behind him, he squinted in the dim room. As his eyes adjusted, he saw a figure tied to a chair. Abby!

He raced to her side. “Abby, it’s me, you’re safe,” he murmured, as he removed her gag and blindfold. He untied the ropes and looked into her eyes. “Are you okay?”

He saw a mixture of fear and relief in her eyes as she nodded.

“Raymond — where’s Raymond?”

She stifled a sob. “In the bathroom.” Her voice was hoarse.

He rushed into the bathroom. Sweet little Raymond, tied with ropes, was lying in the bathtub, whimpering softly. Seeing Raymond’s small body trembling in the tub, Brad choked up. “You’re okay, Ray, you sweet boy, it’s okay, we’ll have you out of here soon.” He untied the ropes, picked up the child, and held him, kissing his pudgy, wet face.

Brad carried the whimpering boy into the main room and handed him to Abby. Tears streaming down her face, she grabbed and hugged her son, who clung to her and sniffled into her neck.

“Okay, I need to get both of you out of here before they come looking for us.” He looked around the room. “Do you need anything from here? Is anything here yours?”

Abby shook her head and kissed Raymond’s cheek.

“Good. Can you walk okay?” She nodded, and he continued. “Let me check the area first.” Brad ran to the window and looked out. Nothing.

He opened the front door a crack and peered out. It looked clear. He opened it further and quickly stepped back, waiting a moment in case of any threat. Then he moved to the doorway and scanned the area. Clear.

“Let’s go,” he said, his voice low and intense as he waved to Abby to follow him.

“Stay close to me,” he whispered as he left the motel room, hugging the wall. He grabbed her hand and held it tightly. He did not want to lose her again.

Tense and focused, he scanned the area and then rushed to the far end of the lot, pulling Abigail with him. He quickly ran across the parking lot to the street and stopped in the shade of a tree on the sidewalk. He peered across the parking lot, considering his next move. Still vulnerable and in danger, they desperately needed to get to a phone.

He glanced briefly at Abigail. Her face was pale and tense, and she held tightly to Raymond, whose head was buried in her neck, his curly red hair a soft halo around his head. Other than Abby’s heavy breathing, it was quiet. He knew they could not get too far, but they had to move.

“You okay?” he asked her.

Abby nodded, but her tension and fear were palpable.

Shouts suddenly sounded — loud voices carrying through the air.

“That’s them,” he whispered. “We need to get out of here now.”

Holding tightly to her hand, his heart thudding, he rushed down the sidewalk toward a few industrial buildings. Where could they find shelter? He scanned the area, then quickly led Abby behind an old warehouse into a wooded area in the back.

Crouching in the tall grass behind large, leafy bushes that shielded them from view, they peered through the leaves, as he steadied his breathing.

Three men rushed down the street. Brad watched as James stopped roughly sixty feet from where they hid. James’s eyes scanned the area and he called out, “Where are you, Brad? We know you’re here. You won’t get far.”

Another of the men answered, “Where did he go? He’s got Abby and the kid with him. He couldn’t have gone far. He has to be around here.”

James started toward the woods. “We’ll find them. It won’t be that hard.” He turned back toward his cohort as a black sedan pulled up next to them. “Wait, our ride is here. It will be easier to cover more distance that way. We’ll check out all possible places they could have gone.”

The three men climbed into the car and the doors slammed closed. The car sped off, tires squealing on the pavement.

Brad let out a long breath and looked at Abby. Her face was pale and strained, and she rocked Raymond, speaking softly to him.

Brad reached over and ran his fingers through her hair. “I’m sorry, Abby. This is my fault. You didn’t deserve any of this.”

“I just —”

“No, I was supposed to protect you from your ex, and I put you in even more danger.” He shook his head. “This guy had nothing to do with —”

“Brad, I know that guy.”

“Who? James? You know him?”

“Yes. I’ve seen him before. Talking to my ex.” She swallowed and looked at Brad, her eyes intense. “They are friends. He is part of this.”

Brad felt his stomach clench as he realized he had been set up more than he thought. That bastard had played him. Damn — he had trusted him.

He stood up. “Let’s get you safe.” He reached out his hand and helped Abigail stand. “First, let’s find a phone so we can call for help. I think I saw a gas station just past the next building.”

As they picked their way through the tall weeds and around behind the next commercial building, he cautiously led them toward the gas station. His stomach flipped as he thought how close he could have come to losing her. To losing both of them.

Voices reached him, and he stopped and listened. He could not risk their safety. The voices spoke again, but it was too far away to hear what they were saying. After another minute, the voices receded, car doors slammed, and a car took off. Could those be the same men looking for them? A gas station would be a good bet for where they could be expected to go for help. It could be a trap.

His skin prickled. Something did not feel right. It was too risky.

Brad signaled Abigail to stay back, and he stealthily and silently crept forward.

The snap of a twig reached him and his head whirled toward the sound. There — Brad spotted James standing behind a tree with his eyes glued to the gas station. That slimebag was waiting for him. They were being set up.

As silently as he could, Brad eased forward, crouching low, pausing behind trees. A dry leaf crunched under his foot, and he quickly slid behind a tree and held his breath. He watched James tense up, his body alert and focused.

James stepped forward, looked around, then scratched his head and went back to the tree, eyes riveted on the gas station. Good.

Brad slowly crept forward again, carefully choosing his steps to avoid making noise as much as possible. Finally within ten feet of James, Brad picked up a rock and threw it beyond and to the side of James. As it landed, James immediately turned toward the sound where the rock hit the ground.

As James focused in the opposite direction trying to see what made the noise, Brad rushed forward and sprung into the air, aiming a flying roundhouse kick straight at James’s head.

James heard the noise behind him too late and spun around, turning his head straight into Brad’s foot. James’s head snapped back and he instantly collapsed to the ground.

Brad cautiously moved forward, keeping his eyes on James, who now lay unmoving in a heap in the dirt. Gingerly approaching the motionless body, Brad nudged James with his foot. No response.

Carefully watching James’s face, alert for any movement, Brad quickly kneeled down and went through James’s pockets. A cell phone — just what they needed.

Backing up, staying focused on James’s inert body, Brad immediately called 911.

A few minutes later, sirens from police vehicles could be heard rushing toward them, and Brad breathed a sigh of relief.

***

One week later, Brad gazed at Abigail as she sipped her chocolate milkshake in the coffee shop, her long auburn hair flowing past her shoulders. She looked up at Brad and swallowed. “Thank you again, Brad. For everything — I mean it.”

He smiled, reached over, and squeezed her hand. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re safe and the case got resolved. That could have gone so wrong so many times.”

Abby held his gaze. “But it didn’t. You rescued us. You helped put my ex behind bars. I’m free now and don’t have to worry about him.”

Brad nodded. “And when James gets out of the hospital, he’ll be behind bars as well.” He gestured to her son who was happily spooning vanilla ice cream into his mouth, his red curls bouncing. “How’s Raymond doing?”

Abby’s lips curled up into a smile. “He’s good. He had some nightmares for a few days, but he’s doing better now.”

“Good.” He felt a tingle move up his body and wondered if he should say what he really wanted to tell her. He hesitated, and then decided to say it anyway. “Abby, I’ve really enjoyed spending time with you, and I wondered if, well, maybe …”

“Hey, I liked it too. Well, not the danger part, but I enjoyed the time with you.” Abby sat up and licked the milkshake off her lips. “You know what? Would you be willing to spend the night at my place? You know, to make sure we’re safe.” Her green eyes twinkled.

Brad chuckled. “To make sure you’re safe? Yeah, sure, I could do that.” He gazed into her eyes for a few moments. “Is that what you need? To feel safe?”

Abby’s face lit up and she laughed. “Yeah, I need to feel safe enough to do this,” she murmured, leaning forward and planting a kiss on his lips.

Brad moaned and kissed her back, the feel of her soft lips sending a rush of warmth through him.

After a few moments, Abby pulled back. “I hope you can work some overtime. I’m going to need a lot more of this.”

Brad laughed. “Absolutely. This is a special case that will need a lot of extra, in-depth research.”

“Good, I’m counting on it,” she murmured, pressing her lips to his again.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2021 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 visit her Amazon author page at – https://www.amazon.com/Lynn-Miclea/e/B00SIA8AW4

Lisa Criss Griffin: The Resistance

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! 

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Ahmed Gomaa from Pixabay

The Resistance 

Lisa Criss Griffin

The occupant of #18 listened to the disembodied voices travel past his prison chamber and fade away down the long hallway. He wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or horrified. The possibility of those demons everyone referred to as “scientists” deciding to do more testing on him was very real. Evan knew they would eventually cull him to figure out what had gone wrong with the AI implant. 

So far, they had only managed to partially install a replacement implant, which he promptly removed when they threw him kicking and screaming into #18. It had been a painful, bloody affair which rendered him unable to speak…or scream afterwards. They left him alone after that, having a host of his former fellow military personnel to reprogram.

Evan was one of the few Enforcer Units who experienced a total AI implant failure during the freak lightning storm that hit the internment camp for those poor souls who took the experimental injections rolled out during the pandemic. He was now cognizant of the horrors being perpetrated upon the resultant hybrid human/lizard people, who were inmates of The Science Camp. 

The guttural screams of panic and pain from unfortunate hybrids screeched past his cell regularly. He covered his ears the best he could to drown out their sounds of suffering during the torture sessions instigated by the monstrous scientists. It was rumored the blood of tortured hybrids was highly valued by the controlling elite as an extreme intoxicant. It shocked Evan to his very core when he realized the rumor was absolutely true. 

It was also shocking how the initial AI implant removed his ability to feel any emotion whatsoever. He recalled being content to follow orders, regardless of what those orders entailed. All that mattered was that he did what he was told to do. There was no thinking it through, no awareness of the consequences to others…good or bad, while the implant was functional. Evan vowed he would die before he ever allowed himself to be dehumanized by an AI implant again. When they came for him…and he was sure they would come eventually, he would not acquiesce.

A narrow slot in the lower door flipped open. A hand shoved a tray containing his daily ration of food and water through the opening and onto the unforgiving cell floor. Evan could hear the rattle of the tray he slid out into the hallway the night before, as his keeper picked it up. He had learned quickly to return the tray to the hallway if he expected to be fed the next day.

The food was leftover and cold, but it sustained him. The water was wet, yet had a funky aftertaste. He assumed it was tap water, but anything was possible in this hell hole. He chose not to dwell on it. Evan Mullohan had decided to survive, in case he could either escape or at least cause a lot of destruction in the nefarious laboratory when the time came. He invented a daily exercise routine to keep his muscles functional. Not that he would let them know. Let them think he was languishing away in #18, alone and forgotten. Evan was a warrior, and this was his private war now. No matter how it ended for him personally, he would fight for his freedom and the freedom of his fellow prisoners from this abominable, globalist regime.

Evan slid his tray back out into the hallway and took his usual post over by the narrow, barred window in the thick, adobe wall. He watched as the Enforcer Units oversaw the chores the hybrids were required to do. The former Enforcer Unit was familiar with the schedules and even fancied he could recognize some of the individual hybrids now. Of course, he was well acquainted with most of the Enforcers. They were from his own military unit. They all had been fitted with the AI implant. There had not been a choice. He was sure if they had known what the implant would actually do, most of the military would have rebelled. But, of course, the treasonous frigging assholes in charge brazenly lied to them all. 

He shook his head in disbelief at the massive deception and evil perpetrated on billions of unsuspecting people all over the world. The elitists were absolutely demonic, and eventually they would reap what they had sown. If not in this lifetime, then in the afterlife. As angry and horrified as he was, thoughts of such depths of eternal punishment gave him little comfort.

An unusual sight caught his attention. He lifted his head away from the comfort of the cool adobe wall and pressed his face against the metal bars of the open window. Three unfamiliar scientists were being accompanied to the main building by a new Enforcer Unit. Evan blinked, then rubbed his eyes to be sure he wasn’t hallucinating. Heck, anything was possible given his current living conditions. 

He was almost sure the new Enforcer Unit was his best friend, Tom Gutierrez. Tom had gone missing after the freak electric storm. It was rumored he helped a couple of hybrids escape during the chaos that ensued. Tom’s AI implant had deactivated during the lightning storm, was reactivated a few hours away from The Science Camp, and then it went dead, permanently. No trace of his childhood friend was ever found. A shudder ran through his thin body. Nature had a way of cleaning up, and wild predators were always aware of potential meals. Evan had grieved the loss of his childhood friend deeply during his sentient imprisonment. 

The group slowly walked out of his sight. Evan slid down the smooth, clay wall, his head in his hands. His fingers grasped his shaggy hair, unconsciously yanking it in consternation. Had he finally gone crazy, cooped up in solitary with no one to talk with? Could he trust his eyes, or was he starting to see things? Had he just imagined it was Tom? He never had closure on his friend’s demise, and found himself looking for him, out of some small ray of hope he wasn’t actually dead. To see his missing friend walking by with an AI implant clearly visible, deeply wounded his soul. At least Tom had been free, if only for a little while. Death was better than losing one’s humanity to the damnable, soulless control of the AI implant.

Evan slowly crawled over to his bed on the hard floor and wrapped himself in his only blanket. Trembling, he turned towards the bare wall as hot tears flowed down his grizzled cheeks and soaked into his dirty shirt. Nobody heard the horrendously silent screaming from Cell #18.

***

The new Enforcer Unit #7701 designated for Science Camp 917, Tom Ferguson, carefully kept his eyes blank of emotion as he escorted the scientists and his AI specialist into the main office for their new assignment to the lab. His plastic surgery by the Guardian’s surgeon had been a raving success, and only those who knew him extremely well might recognize him. AI specialist Rory Dominic had successfully insisted on including him as an example of the success of her improved AI implant technology for the Enforcer Units. 

The Czar over World Region 1, Section 9 had ordered a massive increase in the production of the blood intoxicant known as ERE, produced by the inhuman torture of the hybrids. The two new scientists were hired to help meet that order. An AI specialist was also brought in with the new group to update the AI implants to prevent further dysfunction. Their credentials were impeccable, and they were given free range of The Science Camp after their interviews. The new Enforcer Unit with the updated AI implant was assigned to meet their needs as requested and would remain posted in the laboratory and by their quarters to make sure the scientists transitioned smoothly into their new assignments without any unexpected problems. Dr. Wesley Berringer, Dr. Rance Edwards, and AI specialist Rory Dominic insisted on a proper orientation of the equipment, procedures and subsequent production of the invaluable hybrid elixir. The new scientists were determined to be effective and efficient in the laboratory as soon as possible. 

The group was given unfettered access to the lab computers. Nobody noticed the new Enforcer Unit reading snippets of information over their shoulders as he stood quietly at attention, awaiting an order from his charges. One of the new scientists scanned a list of current inmates, scrolling slowly. Enforcer Unit #7701 quickly squelched his surprise upon seeing his childhood friend’s name on that list. 

Evan Mullohan…Main building cellblock…#18…failed AI implant…current status: dangerous.

“Heck yeah, Evan would be highly pissed off and very dangerous without a functional AI implant. Just like I was when my implant failed and I became aware of what was actually happening, not only here at this Science Camp, but everywhere else. Hang on, my friend. Help has arrived. I won’t leave you rotting away in #18. The Resistance is well underway throughout World Region 1 right now….”

“Guard!”

The new Enforcer Unit’s eyes snapped to attention, focusing on the face of the tenured scientist who had spoken to him. The scientist turned to one of his new colleagues.

“Is there a glitch in the updated AI programming? Your new Enforcer Unit seemed to be worlds away. I had to speak to him twice before he acknowledged me!”

“No, it is not a glitch, Dr. Nutter. It is merely a snooze program to extend the life of the implant. You may have noticed the Enforcer Unit has not received a new order for over an hour. The programming automatically goes into a snooze state after an hour. This is a less recent update, and I didn’t realize you weren’t familiar with it. My apologies, Dr. Nutter. I imagine this is a sensitive subject for everyone here in Science Camp 917.”

“Well, yes it is, Ms. Dominic. You couldn’t imagine the chaos that ensued after the lightning storm. It was a freaking nightmare!”

“And that is exactly why I am here…to make sure it never happens again.”

“We are counting on it. Glad to have you here. All of you.”

Dr. Nutter dabbed the sweat from his wrinkled forehead with his handkerchief before he opened the door to leave the lab for the day. The door slowly closed behind him. The new team worked in silence for another thirty minutes before calling it a day. The Enforcer Unit accompanied his charges outside.

“That was quick thinking, Rory. A brilliant explanation, actually.”

“Thank you, Rance. But Tom, what were you thinking about, to be so distracted?”

“My best friend’s name is on the incarcerated list due to a complete AI failure. He is described as…dangerous. I was quite surprised, and was thinking of how we could help him. He will be a valuable asset when the time is right. I didn’t realize I was so caught up in my thoughts. God, it is so nice to have my own thoughts again! I sincerely apologize if I jeopardized our mission in any way.”

“Actually, it may have been a blessing in disguise. We need them to accept that the new AI programming has differences. Because as we all know, things are going to change.”

The group murmured their agreement as they entered the main building for some food and eventually their beds. It was concerning nobody had disclosed to them there was a fully human prisoner in the other wing during orientation. Tom accompanied the scientists to their rooms, waiting impatiently for them all to fall asleep. 

He waited until well after midnight before entering the darkened prison wing of the main building. Enforcer Unit #7701 walked stealthily, yet as if he had a purpose. His heart was racing. Every sense he had seemed intensified, and even soft sounds seemed to echo. If he was discovered…. He stopped before #18, his boot barely missing an empty tray lying in front of the door. He tapped lightly on the door, calling to his friend softly.

“Evan. Evan Mullohan from Burning Springs. It’s Tom Gutierrez…erm…Ferguson. Can you hear me?”

Sounds of shuffling approached the far side of the door. 

“Tap, tap, tap. Tap…tap…tap. Tap, tap, tap.”

“I understand, bud. We are here to help. Don’t give up. We will need your help when the time is right. I can’t stay. I just wanted you to know I was here, and sentient. When we come to get you for your fake upgraded AI implant installation, don’t fight us too much…just enough to be convincing. And don’t choose me for that nasty undercut punch you love to use. One of the old resident scientists would be more deserving. I recommend a Dr. Nutter if possible. I have to go. Tap once if you understand.”

“Tap.”

Tom walked authoritatively down to the end of the hallway, and retraced his steps, scanning the layout before returning to his nocturnal station in the small living room connected to the rooms of his charges. He paced awhile, then reclined on the sofa. After some deep breathing exercises to reduce his receding anxiety, he finally fell asleep, secure in the knowledge that his team would wake him up when the new day arrived.

***

Within three weeks, the Guardian Team had successfully mixed The Camp’s backlog of hybrid ERE with a synthetic version of the intoxicating blood elixir. They had almost titrated the mix to solely the synthetic ERE. In fact, reports were coming in that the latest ERE was even more potent, and the General of District 9 was already praising the new team’s success at Science Camp 917 highly. The updated AI implants were working as expected, although each newly implanted Enforcer Unit was debriefed and quarantined for forty-eight hours for quality control purposes by Rory Dominic and her loyal Enforcer Unit #7701. 

So far, the upgrades were deemed a complete success by the original Science Camp management and staff. The clandestine hybridization reversal treatment was well underway, and the incarcerated hybrids were beginning to show signs of their successful transformation. The time had arrived to neutralize the original management personnel and scientists of Science Camp 917 to avoid the exposure of the Guardian Team’s hybrid rescue operation.

It was only a few hours before dawn when Tom made his way back into the prison wing of the main building. He located #18, almost falling in an effort to avoid clattering the empty tray lying haphazardly in front of his childhood friend’s cell door. He tapped gently, whispering to his friend.

“Evan. Hey…Mullohan. It’s Tom. Are you ready for some action, dude?”

He was met by silence.

“Evan! Answer me, man. Tap, or something.”

Silence.

“Alright, I’m coming in. And none of your deadly undercut punches, dude!”

Tom tried the doorknob before he spent precious time returning to the main lobby to palm the key to #18. He was immensely surprised when he heard the latch release. He pushed the door open and stepped into the dimly lit cell. His eyes scanned the area, while every brain cell he had screamed something was terribly wrong. There was a lump huddled under a thin blanket in the corner. He approached it cautiously, fervently praying his buddy was just asleep…nothing worse.

Tom reached out and shook his friend’s shoulder. The man rolled over, his glazed eyes staring blindly at the ceiling. He was obviously dead. And he was obviously not Evan. Something was scrawled across the dead man’s forehead in blood. Completely horrified, Tom hesitated, then slowly leaned closer towards the pale head of the corpse so he could make out the letters in the dim light. He felt a surge of bile rising in his throat before he panicked.

THEY KNOW 

Copyright 2021 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved

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Paula Shablo: Keys and Cake

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! 

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Ahmed Gomaa from Pixabay

Keys and Cake

Paula Shablo

Dear Diary,

I’m far past the place where I can distinguish what is or is not a silly idea. I just want to say that there’s something distinctly comforting to me in carrying around this old-fashioned room key.

Is it silly? If so, I don’t give a damn. I like the key. I like the bold number of the room on the fob. It makes me think of times that were simple and peaceful.

It makes me think of kinder times, okay?

It has been years since anyone used keys like this. All the new, fancy hotels had key cards. So you know this place is old and probably it wasn’t all that popular. I’d venture that it was cheap, as well. But I don’t care. When I got here, I thought I’d have to sleep in the lobby, and instead, I found room keys, real keys that required no internet and no electricity.

It felt like a small miracle.

Even better—the water runs. Yeah, there’s no hot water, but I’m not complaining about a lukewarm shower. I’m just happy to be clean.

I went back to what remains of my mother’s house to see if I could get a sense of where she and Aaron may have gone. All I know for sure is, they are gone. The car is gone, and there were no bodies in the ruins of the house.

My heart is broken.

You have no idea, Diary, of what it was like to finally reach the place and find them gone. I had such hopes that all the destruction would be centered on the city and the suburbs would be safe.

There I go, being silly again. Right?

No one was safe. God alone knows what has happened to the world.

Leave it to me to steal a car with no radio. There’s a stereo system and a small collection of CDs in there. A little weird—no one has CDs anymore, do they? But whoever owned the car before it was abandoned at least had decent musical taste.

I say I stole it, but…well, it feels like I did, even though there was no one left to claim it. I haven’t seen another living person in days.

I steal a lot now. No matter how I tell myself that no one owns a thing, it still feels like it to me.

First thing I did was get a lot of meat from the grocery store down the road. Then I took it to the gas station and put it in the ice locker with the dry ice. I also got dry ice to put in my little refrigerator here.

After a couple of days it finally occurred to me that I could get a small generator and run a few things here. So now I have lights and the fridge.

I went in the other rooms—there are twenty—and unplugged everything. Conservation is the key, right?

I’m scared, though. I don’t want anyone moving in on me, you know? Who can I trust? So I only turn on the light in my own room, and I keep the curtains closed tight so no one will see.

I got a small barbeque and charcoal, and I grill meat in the lobby. Weird, huh? I worry that someone might smell my dinner cooking and come here, but I’m more worried about cooking in my room. It’s pretty small.

Every day, I put gas in the car and I drive in different directions, just looking. Sometimes I don’t get far; the roads are so damaged in places that it would be crazy to try driving on them.

I’ve found that a rough drive through empty fields is a better plan sometimes. I keep looking for my mother’s car. I have looked in parking lots. I have looked at houses that still remain upright.

Mostly, I have been afraid to get out of the car when I’m out and about. Getting food and clothes and other supplies is pretty nerve-wracking, if you want to know the truth. It’s like, I want to find people, but I’m afraid to find people. The only people I want to see are Mom and Aaron.

Why?

Because I don’t know who did this!

This country has been nuts for a while now, and for all I know, we did it to ourselves. That doesn’t leave me with a lot of options regarding trust, does it?

I mean, have you watched “The Walking Dead”?

Of course, you haven’t; you’re a book full of empty pages waiting for me to fill you up.

Well, I have, and you better believe me when I say that there are more people out there not to trust than there are who are trustworthy.

If there are any people out there at all…

That’s a shitty thought.

Look: I crept and crawled my way out of a demolished parking garage. I walked almost all the way to Mom’s before I got to the car. I have food and shelter.

I have a cool room key.

I can’t be the only one left alive—that’s ridiculous.

And—while I have no proof of it, I do not believe there are zombies out there, either.

But who the hell knows?

I didn’t believe anyone would actually drop bombs on us, either.

Anyway…

Today I drove out and around this cornfield. I didn’t even know anyone grew corn around here! You’d think I’d know things like that. Still, if it keeps growing as well as it seems to have done so far, I will be eating corn-on-the-cob soon.

Anyway, from the place where I stopped driving today, I could see an old barn. It didn’t look like much, but there could be useful things inside. I might go and have a look tomorrow. I wasn’t about to do that today and risk it getting dark before I got here.

I never used to be afraid of the dark.

On the way back, I stopped at a small grocery store, and guess what I found? A chocolate cake! I am going to put you down in just a minute and eat my dinner—a grilled pork chop, potatoes, and green beans, and a big slice of chocolate cake.

Damn the apocalypse and damn my waistline. I’m going to eat while the eating is good, because I know things aren’t going to last.

Maybe I’ll have two slices.

Good-night, Dear Diary.

Paula entered this story in a challenge on Vocal.com. Please click on the link and give this story a like:  https://bit.ly/2UBExDJ

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

Cheryl Ann Guido: The Angel By The Sea

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! 

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image by Ahmed Gomaa from Pixabay

The Angel By The Sea

Cheryl Ann Guido 

Cape May, New Jersey

A cool gentle breeze carried the pungent aroma of fresh salt air through the open windows in the grand ballroom. Around the perimeter, couples sat at candle-lit tables clutching fluted champagne glasses as their heads bent together in intimate conversations. Others foxtrotted around the dance floor in time with the boozy melodies played by the hotel’s orchestra. It was New Year’s Eve, 1934. Prohibition had ended the year before and many of those remaining lucky souls who had not lost their fortunes in the stock market crash of 1929 were gathered at The Angel of the Sea to celebrate a new year that brought hope for a new beginning.

A group of tuxedo-clad gentlemen stood at the bar drinking bourbon while they discussed their plans for the future. Reginald Whitmore, owner of Gold Star Imports, the largest importer in New York, lit a long fat stogie then casually blew a smoke ring. “As I was saying, I believe we have come a long way in rebuilding our own businesses. Gone are the days when we needed to rely on our … ahem … partners, to keep us afloat during Prohibition.”

Another in their group, a short thin man sporting a thick, black mustache, gulped down his shot. He slammed the glass down on the bar. “Yeah, but now we have to pay them for protection. How are we supposed to make any money when we’re paying out fifty percent of our profits?”

Whitmore winked. “My good fellow. You just need to know how to get around that little obstacle.”

A tall man in a top hat cocked his head. “Get around it? Are you mad? They have their ways, Reg. If you’re cooking your books, they are going to find out sooner or later and it won’t bode well for you. Perhaps they even know already.”

Whitmore snickered, wearing a wry smile as he picked up his drink. “I’m quite sure that they don’t.”

The mustached man glanced around the room nervously. “How do you know? Why, one of them could even be here right now, watching you and waiting for …”

“Palmer, I have only paid them a small amount each month since Prohibition was repealed last December and I have no intention of ever paying more.”

“You’ve got balls, Whitmore. I’ll say that for you.”

“What I have is a plan. That’s all I will say.” Finding the conversation suddenly uncomfortable, he turned toward the grand staircase that led down into the ballroom from the guest quarters and mentally said a silent prayer of thanks for the diversion he was about to introduce. “Ah, there she is. Have you met my daughter? She is quite an accomplished pianist and songstress, you know.”

All three men focused their gaze on the lovely young woman who had descended the stairway. The long, cream colored rhinestone dotted satin gown that she wore clung to her body, sending small pops of brilliance with each step as it reflected the light from the crystal chandelier overhead. Upon reaching the piano, she turned, smiled at the audience, then sat down on the bench and began to play a few introductory notes. The room darkened and a single spotlight illuminated her shining form as she began to sing.

Palmer leaned over and whispered to Whitmore. “What a magnificent creature. She has a voice like an angel.”

Whitmore winked. “She is and she does. She is unmarried too.”

“What a coincidence. So is my son.” Palmer chuckled. “Perhaps we should have a private conversation later. A marital merger between our two companies would certainly be an excellent business move for both of us.”

“Ahh Palmer,” Whitmore laughed, “my daughter would beg to differ with you on that matter. She has a mind of her own, that one. Being the romantic and headstrong woman that she is, she would never agree to such a partnership unless she had fallen in love with your son. Believe me, I’ve tried several times to make a match for her. She flat out told me to stay out of her personal affairs. I know your business is going through some rough times. I do hope you will be able to operate in the green again soon.”

“Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying, Reg.” He roared with laughter then addressed the bartender. “Barkeep, another. Might as well enjoy life while I can.”

A resounding applause signaled the end of the performance and Whitmore gestured for his daughter to join the group. As she swept across the floor, the men could not take their eyes off of her. “Gentlemen, this is my daughter, Annabeth.”

“Hello, everyone.” Annabeth smiled patiently as the men greeted her. Even though she was used to her father making attempts to find her a suitable husband, inwardly she groaned each time he introduced her to any of his acquaintances. All of these men were older though and she doubted that was his intention tonight. Still, she felt like a trophy being displayed and did not like that feeling at all.

A rough-looking young man pushed his way through her father’s cronies, took her hand in his, then brought it to his lips. Annabeth had never seen him before. He was not very tall and his muscles rippled through his black tuxedo, giving it a slightly ill-fitting appearance. His skin was olive toned and his black slicked back hair shone like patent leather under the lights.

Annabeth pulled her hand back gracefully. “Sir, I do not think I have ever had the pleasure.” Out of the corner of her eye she could see her father scowling.

The young man’s brown eyes lit up. “I am surprised that your father has never spoken of me. My name is Michael Pollozzi but you can call me Mike. I’m a … business acquaintance … of your father’s.” He turned to Whitmore with a triumphant grin. “You never told me you had such a beautiful daughter, Whitmore.”

“Whitmore brought his fist to his mouth and coughed softly. “It never came up.”

The young man took Annabeth’s arm. “Would you care to dance, my dear?”

Annabeth shot her father a questionable glance. He nodded but she could tell he was not happy about the offer. “I would be delighted, Mister Pollozzi.”

“Mike.”

“Alright then, Mike, I would be delighted.”

Pollozzi whisked her out onto the dance floor. For a short man built like a fireplug, Pollozzi was surprisingly light on his feet. Annabeth could not help but be impressed by his dancing skill as they floated across the ornately decorated tiled surface. “You are an exceptional dancer, Mike.”

“That’s not all I’m exceptional at.” He winked.

“Why, Mike, you are making me blush!”

He snorted loudly. “My dear, you do have a dirty mind. That particular skill was not what I was referring to, although …”

Annabeth quickly cut him off. “I apologize. It was wrong of me to think that way.”

“No worries, my dear. No harm, no foul.”

“So, what line of business are you in?”

“Security.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I provide security for my clients. That way they never have to worry about being, uh, contacted by, um, undesirables.”

“I see. My father has been in business for a long time. He never mentioned having a need for any kind of security though.”

“Times change.”

“Yes indeed.”

The music ended and the orchestra leader announced they would be taking a short break. Annabeth smiled. “Thank you. That was lovely.”

Pollozzi gazed over at Whitmore who stood at the bar with his arms crossed, watching their every move. With his eyes still on the obviously irritated older man, he ran his fingers through Annabeth’s soft blonde curls then whispered in her ear. “You have beautiful hair.”

Slightly alarmed, Annabeth took a step back. “Thank you for the compliment. I enjoyed meeting you. I hope you have a splendid evening.” She spun around and nearly ran back to the safety of the bar and her father’s cronies, leaving a smirking Pollozzi alone in the middle of the dance floor.

The rest of the night went by quietly. Annabeth performed another song while her father and his group continued to drink. At midnight, everyone sang Auld Lang Syne, then the orchestra leader announced that the ballroom and bar would close in two hours.

Michael Pollozzi did not approach Annabeth again, although she saw him dance with a few other women. Promptly at 2:00 am, the orchestra leader thanked everyone for coming and wished them all Happy New Year. As Whitmore began to walk toward the staircase, he wobbled slightly. Annabeth grabbed his arm in an attempt to prevent him from falling. “Are you alright, Father?”

“Yes, I think I’m a little tipsy though.”

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they found Pollozzi there waiting for them. Breathing a little faster, Whitmore turned to his daughter. “Annabeth, go on ahead upstairs. I’ll be along shortly.”

“Are you sure you will be alright?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine. Run along, now.”

Pollozzi touched Whitmore’s shoulder. “She really is something, pal. I bet she means a lot to you. It’s obvious that she loves you very much.”

Eyes narrowed, Whitmore brushed Pollozzi’s hand away. “I’m not your pal and yes, she means the world to me, and yes, I love her more than life itself. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

One corner of Pollozzi’s lips turned up in a wry grin. “Mmm. It would be a real shame if something happened, wouldn’t it? Good-night, Whitmore. Sleep well tonight.”

Whitmore said nothing as he climbed the stairway. He turned once and saw Pollozzi still standing at the foot of the stairs, still wearing that irritating smirk. When he reached the top landing, he called out to Annabeth. “Darling, why don’t we switch rooms? My room has a marvelous view of the ocean and I know how much you love the sea.”

“My room has a nice view too, Father.”

“Yes, it does but it’s in the corner of the building and doesn’t face the shoreline directly. Mine has a huge window that you can open and let the cool sea breeze fill the room. I know how much you love the salt air.”

“That sounds nice. Well, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble at all.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the key. “Room 18, right down the hall.”

She reached inside her purse and handed him the key to her room, then snatched his key from his hand. “Thank you, Father! You are always so good to me!”

As she sped away, he mumbled to himself, “You have no idea.”

Whitmore sat on the bed and exhaled. Something about Pollozzi’s last comments did not sit well in his gut. The mobster must have found out about the two sets of accounting books. Reading between the lines, it was pretty clear that Pollozzi wanted to teach him a lesson by harming his precious Annabeth. Since The Angel By The Sea was also one of the businesses Pollozzi protected, Whitmore was certain that he knew which rooms the two of them occupied. By switching rooms, he would thwart Pollozzi’s plans and prevent him from hurting Annabeth or worse. Instead, he voluntarily set himself up as the target. He did not want to die, but if hurting or killing Annabeth was Pollozzi’s intention, he reasoned that occupying her room himself would keep Annabeth safe and the mobster would find him waiting instead.

Whitmore removed his jacket, revealing the holstered handgun he had worn since the beginning of Prohibition and his association with Pollozzi’s mob. After patting his weapon reassuringly, he poured himself a drink from a flask he had filled up at the bar and sat silently in the darkness. If Pollozzi wanted revenge, he was armed and ready. He might go down in the end, but he would go down fighting. “You think you’re clever, Pollozzi,” he mumbled aloud, “but I’m smarter than you are any day.”

Annabeth fully opened the big window and breathed in deeply. How she loved the smell of salt air. Somehow it always seemed so fresh, so clean. After turning down the bedding, she climbed in and brought her knees up, curling into a comfortable fetal position. A sudden rush of cold air swept across her face. Too tired to get up and close the window, she left it open and instead, pulled the bedspread up and over her head for warmth. She closed her eyes and listened to the soothing sound of crashing waves until she finally fell into a deep sleep.

***

The two young people entered the room, dragging their equipment behind. The visit to The Angel By The Sea was something the pair had looked forward to for a long time. Sightings of the shimmering apparition that in life had been violently murdered and now haunted the hotel had been reported by guests and staff for almost 90 years. Apparently, unable to cross over, the ghost had roamed the hotel since the mid 1930s, sometimes being seen in the hallways, sometimes in the ballroom. However, this particular room seemed to be the epicenter of the ghostly activity. Thus, the pair hoped to make contact with the ghost and possibly help it transition to the other side.

After setting everything up, the man settled into one of the plush padded chairs. In his hand, he held a piece of equipment about the size of a cell phone and watched while the woman laid a flashlight on the nightstand next to the bed. When she was satisfied as to its position, she sat down on the bed and visually scanned the dark room lit only by the light of the full moon rising over the ocean’s horizon. “I’m Jennifer and that guy in the chair over there is Aaron. We want to help you. You didn’t deserve to die the way that you did. Will you talk with us? If you are here, please turn on the flashlight next to the bed to let us know. All you have to do is push the red button.”

Both of the investigators gasped but quickly recovered as the light suddenly flashed on. Jennifer smiled. “Thank you, Annabeth.”

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Write The Story July 2021 Prompt!

Welcome to Write the Story!

The radio image prompt from June inspired very creative and entertaining stories. We are looking forward to what you create for July!!

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

Write the Story! June 2021 Prompt

Image by Ahmed Gomaa from Pixabay

Here’s the plan:

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

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

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

The idea is to generate increased traffic for all. It may take some time, but it will happen if you participate. The other perk of this exercise is that you will also have a blog publishing credit for your work.

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