Tag Archives: shortstories

Paula Shablo: Ticky Tacky Houses

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 picardwurtz from Pixabay.

Ticky Tacky Houses

Paula Shablo

They weren’t really houses. They were storage sheds-slash-garages. Garishly painted in pastel colors, they stood out like sore thumbs in the alleyway.

The first time I saw them, this silly song jumped into my head, that old tome “Little Boxes.” Of course, if you really listen to it, it isn’t silly at all. It shares a truth people might like to ignore.

But those sheds—the words “ticky tacky” just fit. They look like someone threw them together from scraps and tried to disguise their essential junk funk with pretty pastels.

They are not pretty. They’re hideous.

I think that’s what drew me to them, honestly. The tacky paint jobs, now seriously in need of fresh coats, made them singularly unappealing. You looked, and then you looked away, appalled.

It lent them an air of invisibility.

Invisibility was exactly what I needed.

I’d done my research and knew that they had been deserted a few years back. The owner had been renting them out to folks in a nearby projects housing development for cheap. The housing had been torn down and everyone collected their cars and their junk and moved on.

I hear tell that some folks left their stuff and the owner had a shed sale to get rid of it all. I don’t really know the whole story, and it doesn’t even matter.

What matters is I needed someplace to lie low while Barry was still on his rampage, hunting me down.

He always swore I would never have the nerve to leave him. “I take care of you, babe,” he said. “I pay the bills around here—you’re nothing but the freeloader I allowed to use me. So buckle up, Buttercup!”

I hate those words. “Buckle up, Buttercup” basically meant one of two things. Either I was going to spend an hour or so pretending he was making love to me, or I was going to spend about the same amount of time protecting my face so I could go out in public without anyone staring at me.

The worst part of it? He was right. I didn’t dare leave. I didn’t have a job or any marketable skills. Where would I go? What would I do? I was nothing.

But that changed. The little plus-sign on the stick I peed on changed everything.

I had been nothing, but now I would be something. Now I would be a mother. And my baby was not going to grow up in that environment.

No way.

If I could get to Mallory, I would be fine. But she’d be the first person he checked with. And he’d keep checking.

So I didn’t call her.

I made a get-away plan. I had to do it quickly, before Barry realized what was happening inside my body. The last time I’d dared to get pregnant, he’d fixed that situation quick.

Bastard.

I wasn’t stupid enough to tell him this time.

I pulled money out of the checking account I wasn’t supposed to use for anything but grocery shopping. At first it was ten dollars here, twenty dollars there—it was easy to hit that cash-back button when I scanned the card, but I didn’t want amounts that would draw attention. Not right away.

I had a little stash of my own that I had been building on since … since the last pregnancy. “Change” from the washing machine. Barry notoriously refused to clean out his pockets before throwing them on the bathroom floor, and sometimes I was able to net as much as fifty bucks on laundry day.

If he asked if any money was there, I’d give it to him. I’m not crazy. “Oh, yeah, honey, it’s in the laundry room, let me run and get it for you.” But basically, it meant nothing to him. He usually returned his cash to his wallet, and the bills he occasionally stuffed in a front pocket generally amounted to only a dollar or two. But I did get lucky sometimes and found a ten or a twenty.

Hey, it adds up over a couple of years.

I walked one day to a used-car lot to look around. I bought this little car that looks like it is being held together with toothpaste and duct tape and chicken wire, but runs like a dream. The guy who sold it to me said his son used it as a motor-shop project at school, but he dropped out before doing the bodywork.

“Knocked up his girlfriend.” The guy looked disgusted and disappointed and proud all in one second—it was uncanny. “Got his GED, though. He’s working.”

He didn’t want to deal with the bodywork, and I didn’t care what it looked like as long as it would run, so we made a good deal.

Go, me!

I took some clothes and the few personal items I care about and I checked out of hotel Barry for good.

Fine, upstanding citizen Barry was not going to come looking for me on the far side of town where even the projects won’t live anymore. He would expect me to look for help among our moneyed friends and neighbors, and he’d have some wonderful stories to tell about how crazy and messed up I am.

That wouldn’t be a lie, exactly. I’m pretty messed up. But now I believe there were a lot of our friends who suspected the problem was not me.

I left my big house and my nice car. I left my books and my cell phone. I copied all the phone numbers I might want later into a tiny address book and kept that on me at all times.

I set my sights on the blue ticky-tacky box because the door looked big enough to drive the car inside.

It was nothing but a space, that shed. When the car was inside, I didn’t have much room. But I cleaned it up and made a home out of it. I got some old fruit pallets from the shipyard and put an air mattress on top and made myself a decent bed. I found an old card table at the dump and cleaned it up and got myself a folding chair. I spent some ill-gotten money on a hibachi so I could cook. 

I became queen of second-hand. The trunk of my car was my closet. I dressed in rags and went to the soup kitchens. I kept my head down.

I kept my eye on the news—Barry didn’t report me missing right away.

When he finally did call the police, the speculations started. People we knew started speaking out about how they suspected I was being abused.

It was so weird to hear an acquaintance of ours talking to news reporters about how she failed to reach out to me and find out if I was okay, and then starting to cry. I felt like I barely knew her. All the friends were Barry’s, you know?

I used a free clinic to keep tabs on my baby. I didn’t use my real name, and they specialized in “no ask, no tell.” But this morning my appointment went a bit off the rails.

“I know who you are,” Dr. Morgan said. “You don’t have to keep this up, you know.”

“If you know who I am,” I retorted, “then you must understand that I certainly do have to keep this up.” I started to cry—big, sloppy sobs, the kind people call “ugly crying.” What else could I do?

“There must be—”

“You don’t understand.” I pulled up my stupid paper hospital Johnny and used it to wipe my face. “This baby—I have to keep him safe.”

“Lila,” she said—using my false name, bless her heart. “Don’t you have someone you can call for help?” She rolled her little stool closer to where I sat on the cold metal examining table. “I know from the news that you were a foster child, so you don’t have family, but—”

“I sometimes think,” I whispered, “that it was one of the things that made me appealing to him.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it for an instant.” Dr. Morgan looked grim. “I’ve seen that sort of codependency before.”

“I have a friend. A good friend. But I don’t want … him … to bother her. I mean—he’s probably already been bothering her.” I shrugged. “That’s why I haven’t called her.”

“Where is this friend? Close?”

“No. She’s in Chicago.”

“Look. I’m not going to ask you where you’re staying, or how you’re getting around. I have to assume you’re somewhere close by. You’re certainly nowhere near your … um … neighborhood.”

I laughed at that. “No, I’m sure not,” I agreed.

“I can send you to someone who can help you get to Chicago,” she offered. “And get you a safe place to stay in the meantime.”

“I’m safe where I am,” I told her. “I just have some things to figure out.”

“But we could—”

“I don’t want to go to the shelter,” I cried. “They’ll be obligated to tell the police where I am, and then Ba—” I stopped, horrified that his name had almost slipped out of my mouth. “They’ll tell him. I know they will.”

Dr. Morgan shrugged. “Right now they think he killed you,” she stated flatly.

“They do?” That was interesting. I hadn’t heard that on the news.

“It’s in their demeanor. The things they say when they appeal to the public for information.”

“Oh?” I had a sudden thought. “And has … has he made any appeals?” I slammed my hands over my mouth. “No—don’t answer that. I’m not falling for any more of his shit.”

“It so happens that he has—big press conference and everything.” Dr. Morgan folded her arms. “I wasn’t all that impressed, frankly.”

“Who else here knows?” I demanded. “Everyone?”

The doctor looked surprised. “Not that I know of,” she assured me.

I was not assured.

“Am I done here? I have to go.”

What had I been thinking? A short haircut and a change of color and oversized sunglasses apparently didn’t do enough to change my appearance.

“Lila, don’t. Don’t go. Let me help you get away.”

“Why?” I demanded. “Why would you do that?”

She looked uncomfortable. It made me suspicious.

“Well?”

“Let’s just say … I am paying it forward.”

“What?”

She took a deep breath and tightened her lips. “Okay,” she said. “I don’t talk about this—ever. But I have been where you are. Oh—” She held up her hands to stop my protests. “Not exactly where you are; but close enough.” She shrugged. “Someone helped me. Now I want to help you.”

And she did.

That would be a whole book’s worth of story, and I may tell it someday.

For now, I just want to tell you that no one ever looked in that ticky-tacky house. Mallory and Susan—Dr. Morgan, that is—came here with me today. I showed baby Mickey my beat-up old heap of a car and my stash of throw-away furniture and my hibachi. He grinned and drooled and was absolutely unimpressed.

“You should show more consideration, Mickey,” I said. “Mommy got out of the box.”

We loaded the car onto a trailer and hauled it back to Chicago. I’m taking an auto-shop class, and I’m going to give it the body it deserves.

It still runs like a dream.

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

Louise Jackson: The Silent Sentinels

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 picardwurtz from Pixabay.

The Silent Sentinels

Louise Jackson

Like soldiers guarding a fortress, these colorful huts have stood in line guarding the road for years. They have withstood the tests of time. Year after year, standing silently listening, watching as the town grew and changed all around them. Never wavering from their posts along the dry and crooked road. The paint may dry and peel in the sun as it bakes through the years, but they don’t complain, they just keep standing and keeping watch. At night during the witching hour, if you walk the dark street you might hear the faint murmuring between some of the huts, but you’ll think it’s your imagination, or is it? Some of the locals say these huts have been here so long they say they hear them murmuring to each other late at night about the day’s goings-on.

Some of the old women say that the missing children aren’t missing, that they are really trapped in one of the huts because it is a doorway to the nether realm. They don’t say which one of the huts, so no one knows which one to stay away from, so everyone says they are just foolish old women. But what if that were true, there are children that go missing, not that many, and the last place they are seen alive is around these huts late in the evening. No one wants to dig into it until, that is, the day the mayor’s daughter goes missing. She was last seen playing at the far end of the huts in the late evening, so perhaps there is some truth to the huts luring children in. 

The mayor was a very robust and gruff man, who was used to getting what he wanted when he wanted, and when he didn’t, he got very red in the face. He was extremely overweight and waddled everywhere he went and was always out of breath. The whole town believed the little girl was not his but was afraid to say anything to his face for fear of reprisal or of what he would do to his wife and the child.

The morning after she disappeared, he waddled down the line of silent sentinels yelling at each one that if they didn’t give him back his daughter he would knock them down one by one! He was getting redder and redder and more out of breath the more he walked and talked. After an hour of this and no answers from the sentinels in time, he started banging on their doors with his big balls of meat he called fists. The huts shook at the banging, but the silent sentinels stood, not wavering from their positions, not saying a word. Well, would anyone expect a wooden building to answer? No, and neither did any of the townspeople, but the mayor remained convinced the huts had stolen his daughter and sent her to the Netherworld. This display of futility went on most of the day. Utterly worn out by the expenditure of energy, which he wasn’t used to, the mayor collapsed in front of the blue hut.

He lay in a heap in front of the door and cried. “Please give my daughter back to me. She is all I have in this world and all I care about in this world. I’ll give you anything if you give her back to me.” 

He then lay his head on his hands and wept uncontrollably, his huge body heaving under his weight with the force of his sobs. Most of the townspeople by now had left because the spectacle was too much to bear. Just then came an earthy, woody, mellow sigh from inside the blue hut. The doors opened and out came the mayor’s daughter, unharmed. The mayor stood up and wiped his eyes on the back of his sleeve. The little girl ran into her father’s arms.

“Daddy, I had the most wonderful time, I wish you could have been there. Why are you sad? I wasn’t gone long. I have some new play friends, you will meet them someday soon, I promise. Let’s go home now, I am hungry.”

The mayor hugged his daughter close, smiled at the blue hut, and mouthed a thank you to it.

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Please visit Louise on WordPress: https://staylor2021.wordpress.com/

Kenneth Lawson: Spy versus Spy

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 picardwurtz from Pixabay.

Spy versus Spy

Kenneth Lawson

A frigid wind blew through the street as I sat watching the line of old sheds along Canal Street. One of them was a dead drop. I waited patiently, sitting in a car as old as the sheds, trying to blend in, in the rough part of town. I watched a man drop a soda can carefully into the bushes in front of the shed with the blue door—a standard drop method. When a blue Mercedes pulled up, I was happy my patience had paid off.

Russell Long exited the car and retrieved the soda can. Russell wasn’t careful. He pulled the can from its hiding place and returned to the car without a glance around. If he’d looked, he would have seen his old partner watching him. I am retired now, but I could still play with the big boys if I had to, especially when the big boys were careless.

Word reached me from anonymous sources that there was a shoot-to-kill order out on me. I expected that. What worried me and lured me back into the country was the word that my former bosses had questioned my mentor and old friend LeAnne Talbot about my retirement and my whereabouts. We had expected that too. However, they had taken it to a new level. Informal questions had become formal, and the government, my former bosses, charged her with treason for aiding and abetting the enemy.

I let my mind briefly wander back over the years as I followed Russell’s car from the dead to the living side of town. We worked together for the Company for over ten years, and both of us had done things we hated in the name of national security. He was now the agent in charge at this station. I’d worked with him in the “Good Ole Days” when it was fun to be a spy, but I also knew Russell’s dark side. The part he kept hidden from the world. I’d seen him go dark and dangerous more times than I cared to remember. The last time was in Russia seven years ago, and it almost cost us our careers and lives. 

We were undercover working on a construction site near the Kremlin, planting bugs to intercept messages from inside the compound. Our cover as construction workers gave us access to the grounds.

But a Russian general’s daughter who worked at the Kremlin had caught Russell’s eye. She drove past the construction site daily, and he became obsessed with her. He stayed after work one night and followed her back to the general’s estate. I trailed him. He cornered her there, and when she refused his advances, he became crazed. What he did not know was that I saw and videotaped his crime.

I should have reported him to our superiors, but the political climate was too volatile, and if our cover were blown, all hell would have broken loose. So, I hid the video where no one could find it. The authorities questioned us as we were on her daily route, but our construction worker covers held. I always suspected the Russians didn’t believe us, but they had no proof. The official report said she’d been raped and strangled by an unknown person. The Russian police had no solid leads and no suspects other than the construction crews working in the area, and there had been no arrest. The Company station director removed us from the country, and we returned to the states.

A year had passed since I abruptly retired from the Company, or more precisely, fled from the Company and disappeared. I had decided that I couldn’t do the work anymore, but one does not retire from this job and disappear completely, but that is what I did. My former employers had issued “shoot to kill” orders, but I had to come. 

The black ops prisons that former operatives disappeared into and never heard from again were common knowledge. We couldn’t tell secrets if there was no one to tell.

However, I kept a few trusted contacts, and the rumors were that LeAnne was scheduled to vanish. She knew too much, and they wanted her out of circulation so that she couldn’t talk to anyone. The people who wanted me dead retained her to question her before she was sent to a black ops prison because they suspected she knew where I was. LeAnne had helped me disappear but did not know where I had fled. 

I followed Russell’s Mercedes until he got to the area of town where there was extensive CTV. I dropped back and let him go because I knew where he was going, and I didn’t want to be recognized.

I spent the next couple of days outside the city to finalize my plans to rescue LeAnne. I had retrieved the information I had hidden and set certain wheels in motion, which would happen regardless of my success. Then I rested and waited.

I watched the comings and goings from my vantage point outside of the city, never daring to enter until now. My contact reported that Russell was alone with LeAnne at the covert location. The trek took longer as I avoided the security cameras around the city. The skills they taught me to keep the country safe served me well to keep myself out of the kind of jail they denied exists.

They held her in a black ops house that I knew well. As I neared the house, I realized this was my last chance to back out, but I couldn’t. I owed her.

Russell opened the door as I stepped on the porch. “I never expected to see you again.”

“You wouldn’t now, would you?”

“How did you find me?”

“I hung out at the sheds in Lower Town. You always hated to find new drop locations. Followed you until I was sure you were headed for this ops house. I heard you had LeAnne and plan to transfer her to a federal prison tomorrow. A prison she will never walk out of, will she?”

He scoffed. “You can’t stop it. Besides, we have what we want now—you.” 

“Not going to happen, Russell, because LeAnne and I are walking out of here right now.”

Russell pulled his gun from its holster and aimed it at me. “You know I can’t let you do that.”

I smiled. “Yes, you can, and you will.” I pulled a manila envelope from inside my jacket. 

“In here are the details of the Russian mission nine years ago—pictures, names, dates, and video of what happened when the general’s daughter died. It proves you raped and strangled her. We all know the official version and that they bought it. Barely. This will put you where you want to send LeAnne.” 

“I can just shoot you.” He stuck the gun barrel against my chest.

“Within five minutes of my death, a copy of this report will go to your superiors and every major news outlet in the world, starting with the Russian press. How long do you think you’d last?”

He started to respond, but I dangled the package in front of him. He crossed the room and unlocked a door. “Get out here.”

LeAnne timidly entered the room and ran to me. “Thank you. I hoped you would come.” 

Russell was still holding the gun on me. “Give me the file.”

“Sure.” I raised my arm as if to toss it to him, but instead, in one quick move, I sent an uppercut to his jaw, and he was out cold. 

I dropped the envelope onto his body and grabbed LeAnne’s hand. As we hurried from the house, she asked why I had given Russell the information. 

“No, there was only blank paper in the envelope. I mailed the real report to his superiors. Russell will pay for what he did.”

 ~~~ 

The drive out of town seemed to take longer than it did. For an experienced operative, I jumped at every sudden move that any vehicle in my sight made. By the time Russell woke up, the files I’d sent from an anonymous, untraceable email account would be landing on his director’s desk, along with the ones I sent to various news agencies. LeAnne disappearing would be the least of his worries.

Eventually, the Company would get around to LeAnne and me. Russell would tell them I was there, but we would be long gone before they came looking for us. The only way to truly disappear was to die, and that is what LeAnne and I did. I’d faked bodies before, but I never thought I’d be faking my own.

A raid on a cadaver farm provided the bodies, and the staged car wreck burned the bodies beyond recognition. I planted our DNA at the scene, so there was just enough material left to prove it was us.

Six months later, while sitting in a beach cabana with LeAnne, I read the local newspaper. On the back page buried under the local island news about the cockfight ring that had just been broken up was a small piece about a former US spy charged in the rape and murder of a Russian General’s daughter more than nine years ago. 

As for LeAnne and I, we settled down to a quiet beach bum life. No black ops prisons for us. But I never stopped looking over my shoulder. 

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

Lynn Miclea: Gateway House

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 picardwurtz from Pixabay.

Gateway House

Lynn Miclea

Mason, Carter, and Dylan ambled down the empty street, talking and laughing as they always did. The three boys had been friends for years, and now that they were in high school, their friendship was even stronger.

As they turned down the street in the older part of town, their voices grew softer and quieter.

Mason nervously glanced around the empty street. “What did you want to show us, Carter?” His forehead scrunched as he looked around. “Something doesn’t feel right here.”

“Those are the little houses I told you about,” Carter said, pointing at the row of small, dilapidated old homes, each barely larger than a shack, and each one painted a different color. “I tell you, something weird is going on with them. I wanted to see them closer, but I wanted you guys with me.”

“I’m not sure about this,” Mason responded as a shiver ran up his spine. “They’re just old homes. I remember seeing them a while back, but I don’t think anyone lives here anymore. And I feel on edge here. Something’s not right.”

Dylan shook his head. “This whole area is creepy,” he muttered, scuffing his shoes on the ground as he walked. “I agree with Mason. I don’t think we should be here.”

Carter turned to his friends. “C’mon, guys, there’s something eerie going on and I want to check it out.” He pointed to the green house in the middle. “That one. I swear, last time I was here, I saw —”

Carter suddenly gasped. As the three boys looked at the green house, a strange red glow emanated from the front window. They immediately stopped in the street, staring at the house. A few seconds later a burst of white light flashed through the house.

Carter’s face was pale. “Did … did you guys see that?”

Mason stared, then swallowed hard, his mouth dry. “I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all. I think we should leave.”

“Me too,” Dylan chimed in. “We should not be here. Let’s go.”

“Don’t you want to know what that was?” Carter looked at his two friends. “I’m curious. I want to know what is going on.”

Mason shook his head as his belly flipped. “I don’t think so, man. That is too spooky. We have no idea what that is.”

Dylan took a step back. “I don’t like this at all. I’m not going near that place. In fact, I think we should leave now. C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

Carter looked back at the house. “I just want to peek in the window, that’s all.” He looked back at his friends. “Dylan, you can wait here.”

Carter started walking toward the green house. He turned and gestured toward Mason. “Hey Mason, you coming?”

Mason hesitated and then shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, okay, just to look in the window. But that’s all. Then we should leave.” He walked forward, joining Carter, and the two approached the green house. Mason stopped a few feet away as Carter went up to the house.

Watching from a safe distance, Mason glanced back at Dylan, who remained in the street.

Carter leaned against the window, putting a hand up to ward off the glare, and peered inside.

“I don’t see anything,” Carter muttered. “Let’s go inside.”

“No,” Mason answered. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Let me try the door.” Carter reached forward and tried the doorknob. It turned in his hand, and the front door creaked open. He peeked in and stepped forward, disappearing into the dark interior.

Mason hesitated and then tentatively followed him and slowly entered the house, seeing a fairly dark room with a few pieces of shadowy furniture. It was silent, and an old, musty smell filled his nostrils. His eyes scanned the room in the dim light, taking in the few pieces of aged, ratty furniture and torn, flimsy curtains hanging at the sides of the front window. As he turned around looking at the small living area, another bright flash of light filled the house. He gasped and his muscles tensed.

“Did you see that?” Carter whispered.

Mason slowly became aware of a low humming sound that filled the room. Shaking, he spun around, his eyes searching the room. No source for the sound or the light could be determined.

Mason jumped as something crashed in a back part of the house. “We need to leave,” he muttered, terror flooding his body. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Okay, maybe you’re right.”

A cold breeze suddenly blew through the room, and Mason shivered.

“I don’t like this,” Mason whispered.

A deep voice echoed through the house. “Get out!”

Mason froze in horror, then turned toward the front door and started rushing toward it, Carter at his side. As they approached the door, it slammed shut and the deadbolt snapped in, locking it.

The two boys turned back to the main room.

Wispy, gray ghostly forms floated through the room.

“W — Wh — Who are you?” Carter stammered.

The ghostly voice responded. “You did not listen. Now it may be too late.”

The boys turned back to the front door and tried it. The deadbolt would not unlatch. Mason desperately fumbled with the doorknob but it would not turn. They ran to the window with the flimsy curtains and urgently tried to open it. The window was sealed shut and did not budge.

Slowly, they turned back to face whatever was in the room.

The wispy, gray ghostly forms fluttered and floated by, watching them.

Another crash sounded and then a flash of red light came from the back of the house.

Mason’s heart pounded in his chest and a lump formed in his throat. His legs felt rubbery.

The deep ghostly voice returned. “This is a gateway. We tried to warn you. We tried to save you.”

A dark, ominous cloud congealed into a massive form at the back of the room. Burning red eyes glowed and glared at them. A rumbling growl emanated from deep inside the dark cloud, as a sulfuric odor filled the air.

Mason reached for Carter and took a step back. He struggled to take a breath as the air became thick and heavy.

The rumbling congealed into words. “You must die. All humans must die …”

Then the dark form dissipated and disintegrated into small, dark-gray cloudy patches which finally disappeared.

The wispy ghosts remained, and they spoke again. “They are the ones who will hurt you, not us. You have been spared for now.”

Carter cleared his throat and found his voice. “Wh — what was that?”

“They are entities from a world far away from here, and they are very powerful. This house is being used as a gateway. They are evil creatures who want to annihilate you and all life forms on your planet so they can take over. We’ve seen them do this on other worlds. We have been trying to protect your world, but we cannot hold them back much longer. They are much more powerful than we are.”

Mason’s voice was raspy. “We — we need to leave …”

“Yes. Get away before they return. If they come back, they will not let you out again. You will not have another chance.”

The deadbolt clicked open, and the front door creaked as it opened toward them.

“Go. Run and don’t come back.”

Mason and Carter rushed out of the house, stumbling and gasping for air. In the front yard, they turned and looked back at the house. The front door slammed shut and they heard the deadbolt engage. A gray wispy cloud slithered past the window.

Mason stared at Carter. His mouth opened, but no sound came out.

Carter looked back at Mason. “What the —”

Mason finally found words. “No, no, no,” he stammered. “That was beyond horrifying. I feel sick. We need to get out of here.”

Carter looked at his wrist and then patted his pockets. “Wait. Where’s my watch? It must have come off in there. I need my watch. I have to look in the window to see if it’s on the floor. Just a quick peek. I’ll see what’s happening and see if my watch is in there.”

Mason stared at him in horror. “No, don’t even go near that house. Didn’t you hear them? Are you crazy? We need to leave.”

“Let me just look real quick. Then we’ll go.”

“Hey,” Dylan called from the street. “Are you guys okay? You were in there a while. What happened? What did you see?”

“I … I … I’m not sure …” Mason’s voice was shaky. “We need to go.”

Carter glanced at Dylan and paused before speaking. “You were right, Dylan. There’s something evil and alien in there. It was bad. Terrifying, actually.” He swallowed. “But I lost my watch in there. I have to see if it’s there. They can’t hurt us if we don’t go in.”

“What?” Mason stared at him. “You gotta be kidding me. What are you gonna see? Even if your watch is in there, we’re not going in. Carter, we need to leave. We can’t mess with this. You don’t know what abilities they have or what they can do.”

“Just a quick glance, that’s all.” Carter walked back to the green house. “I’ll stay outside. They can’t hurt me out here.” He leaned forward and peered through the window.

A blaze of red light flashed in the house and streamed through the window, radiating over Carter’s face.

Carter gasped and stumbled backward, choking and then breathing hard.

Mason ran to him. “Are you okay? Carter? What did you see? What happened? Talk to me.”

Carter trembled and slowly brought his gaze to Mason. As Mason watched, Carter’s eyes seemed to shift. Carter squinted and then his eyes slowly opened and turned black. Within twenty seconds, they glowed with an eerie red light.

Mason shrieked and stepped back, his eyes glued to Carter. “No … no … no …”

A flash of red light flared in Carter’s eyes and beamed directly into Mason’s eyes.

Mason’s eyes opened wide and he gasped as he felt the evil entity slither inside him. He yelled at Dylan. “Run, Dylan. Get away. It’s in both of us now. It is evil. I can feel it. They must be stopped.”

Mason grabbed Carter and pulled him back to the green house. The front door opened as they approached it, and Mason pulled Carter inside. He shut the front door and ran into the kitchen, desperately searching. There — that’s what he could use. Trembling, he picked up a book of matches and ran back to the living room.

His hands shaking, he struck a match, but it did not light. He tried another. That one caught fire. As he approached the curtains, a cold wind blew through the room and extinguished the flame. Mason hunched over and lit another match, then quickly touched it to the flimsy front curtains which immediately erupted in flames.

Howling filled the house and another cold wind blew through the room, but it did not extinguish the flames.

With trembling fingers, Mason lit another match and hastily set the furniture on fire.

The cold wind in the small house increased, and something grabbed Mason and threw him into the far wall. Stunned, his chest aching, Mason slithered to the floor. He clutched at his chest as terror overwhelmed him. His body ached, and he lay there a few minutes trying to catch his breath.

“There’s my watch!” Carter stared at it on the floor, appearing confused, but did not pick it up. Then he looked around and yelled. “Hey — are you okay? What are you doing?”

Mason stared back at him, unable to respond.

Carter seemed agitated. “Why did you set the fires? You can’t do that!”

Mason struggled to his feet. “Don’t you feel it inside you? It is evil. I can sense what they want to do. If they have their way, they will kill all of us. We have to stop them. We need to kill them before they slaughter us.”

Carter choked on the smoke entering his throat. “But we don’t need to die. This is not the way.”

Mason yelled back. “Yes, yes, this is the only way. We have to do this.”

Something pushed Mason back and he yelped as he fell to the floor. “Carter,” he said, gasping between breaths. “I can feel it — I know what they intend to do. Trust me — I can hear their thoughts. Can’t you hear them too? We have to kill them here and now to save everyone. To save all life on Earth. We have to destroy this gateway so no more can come through. We need to end this … before they … before they …”

Carter suddenly was lifted into the air and thrown into a side wall. His face showed shock and then he screamed as he fell to the floor.

As the flames, smoke, and heat intensified, a loud howling spread throughout the house, along with a deep voice. “This is not the only gateway, Earthlings. You cannot stop us.”

Mason and Carter screamed as the flames licked at their feet.

Dylan stood in the street and watched the house go up in flames. He heard the screams of his friends and a deep howling from inside the house. Shocked and horrified, his stomach churning, he turned to leave.

As he passed by the pale blue house next door, he glanced at it and saw a red glow coming from inside that house through the window.

Panicked and horrified, pushing down the growing nausea, he turned and ran as fast as he could.

***

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

TN Kerr: Estero Point

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 picardwurtz from Pixabay.

Estero Point

TN Kerr

Like Joseph’s coat of many colours, now worn and faded
Almost matching, they stand in line, a particoloured coastal town, akin to soldiers at the edge of the road
A place for the Sunday Seafarer to store his skiff
Reel Deal resides at number four
Bull Fish, number twelve
A couple crewmen from the trawler “Taboo” squat in sixteen
 
The beacon at the Point remains ever watchful

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Please visit TN on WordPress: tnkerr.wordpress.com/2021/08/08/dancing-key/

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!: Then versus than

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

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THEN versus THAN


People often mix up the words “then” and “than.” These words have different meanings and uses.

Then is used when it is related to time. It could mean at that moment, at that time, next in time, or will happen soon. When you are talking about time, use then.

Examples:

  • First we’ll eat and then we’ll go to the park.
  • Brian will go first and then Carla will go.
  • Cars were cheaper back then.
  • I grabbed my coffee and then sat down.
  • If I eat too much pizza, then I won’t have room for dessert.
  • My class is over at 3:00 and we can meet then.
  • Back then, things were easier.
  • I went for a walk and then came back home.
  • We’ll read this book first and then we’ll read that one.
  • Let’s meet first and then we can discuss the sale.

——-

Than is used for comparisons — one thing compared to another. It is a conjunction used to introduce the second part of a comparison. It also can show the rejected choice when there is a preference. When you are comparing, use than.

Examples:

  • James is shorter than Michael.
  • She would rather read a book than paint.
  • This dress is silkier than that one.
  • Better late than never.
  • I need to study now more than ever.
  • He likes hiking more than I do.
  • She is taller than me.
  • I like blue more than green.
  • I would rather drive than walk that far.
  • She wanted a puzzle more than any other toy.

Basically, if it relates to time, use then. If it is a comparison, use than. Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

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I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog. Thank you!
Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/

Write The Story September 2021 Prompt

Welcome to Write the Story!

August’s storm has ended and thanks to all who submitted stories. They were terrific.

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! August 2021 Prompt

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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.

—————–

Enzo Stephens: Reconciliation

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 David Mark from Pixabay)

Reconciliation

Enzo Stephens

Mason padded barefoot over rough, weathered planks of the dock in the pitch black of the wee hours of the morning when the moon plummets from the night sky with no blazing celestial body to take its place for a few hours.

A thick blanket of clouds obscured the wide swath of stars that speckled the heavens, so even their light was gone. Just the occasional flash of lightning, jagged, jarring, drawing the eye as well as the imagination, filled the sky.

Even though Mason was as captivated by the sheer power and enormity of the elements as hundreds of generations of men before him who’d experienced this very same vista from this very same spot, he was still very mindful of where he placed his feet on the aged, rickety dock. The wood could be slick, and so some caution was in order.

Gentle swells rocked the dock, and Mason was struck at the thought of him having his ‘sea legs,’ even though he was still technically ashore. Yet the sea pushed and pulled, causing the dock to sway; Mason unconsciously compensated by adjusting his gait.

A fish flashed in the depths off to his left, a smattering of fluorescent sea foam in its wake as Mason moved past the second set of pilings on either side of the dock, soundless, a shadow moving of its own volition amid the deep dark.

Two more sets of pilings until the end of the dock. Forty feet.

Another jagged bolt split the sky, and its accompanying rumble thrummed in the distance.

The rains would come soon. It being the tropics, flash storms came daily, often several times a day. Mason smiled in the gloom. Let the torrent come. Mason would train, come hell or high water.

Mason sensed the end of the dock several feet before him; heard the gentle susurration of the lapping sea from every direction except directly behind him. He inhaled deeply, forcing air all the way down to the pit of his stomach, and then released it in a controlled exhalation. A subtle calmness stole over him as he repeated the disciplined breathing.

The breath is the life.

In. Hold. Release. Hold.

Again.

Mason sank into a seated Lotus position, his body descending to the planks as a leaf falls from a tree. Once seated, deep in the throes of the discipline, Mason opened his senses, each repetition of the breathing discipline helping his mind to flow outward.

Another blaze of searing electricity scorched the air, and Mason felt his hair react and smelled the faint whiff of ozone…

And accepted it.

Four thick weathered posts — reminiscent of tree trunks, marked the end of the dock. Mason sensed them, perhaps five to six feet before him.

Mason leapt to his feet effortlessly, landing on the balls of his feet, the end of the dock a mere two strides away.

Moving fast enough to be a blur against the night, Mason swung his right shin in a whipping horizontal arc that cracked against a piling, then followed that with his left shin.

Mason continued, throwing kicks faster and with more power, keeping the cadence of his breathing, the complaining skies a backdrop to the shocking meaty whacks that rolled out across the sea. Still, Mason continued, the blows hammering weathered wood mercilessly.

He felt moisture on his legs as he continued to piston his hips left, then right, and that wetness may have been the sea, or sweat, or blood.

Didn’t matter. There was the training, and that was all.

A wicked shard of glaring lightning blistered the skies seemingly just over Mason’s head, illuminating the sea around the dock, the battered and bruised piling, and the dock itself.

He lowered his head and shot kick after kick out, faster, harder. No feeling in his legs, the breath burning in his lungs, as his cadence grew more hurried. Mason told himself to calm down, but…

Faster!

A final leap, wrenching of his hips and his left shin whipped out again, slammed into the tortured wood, and then through it, splinters flying through the gloom, the momentum of the insanely powerful kick spun Mason around 180 where he came to rest again on the balls of his feet. He fought to slow his breathing as the skies split open with a severe horizontal rip of light.

It was then that he sensed…

Another.

He narrowed his eyes, forcing an increase in blood flow, and the gloom brightened just a smidge, enough for Mason to see more than dark blobs in the night.

There, at the juncture of dock and shore, stood a figure; quiet, unmoving. As still as the night itself.

“What do you want?”

Silence, and yet the figure took a silent step in Mason’s direction.

Curious. Thunder blared, closer now. It was only a matter of time before the skies opened up and the deluge came. Mason watched the figure with furrowed brow as it took another step.

He turned to face the mute figure fully, determined not to allow the elements in their fury to distract him.

The figure was closer now, and Mason could make out the form of what appeared to be a child. “Aren’t you a bit young to be out at this hour in this weather?”

Still nothing. Another feeding fish broke the surface with a splash, jarring Mason. He forced himself to calm as the figure took another step; it was maybe fifteen feet away from Mason now. Mason adjusted his position into a classic fighting stance; hands open before him, body centered, feet well rooted, because one never knew what kind of cluster-fudge would come a man’s way, now would one.

Another step.

Another blast of light across the heavens, and Mason could see the other’s face.

It was that of a boy, maybe ten years old. His color was ashen, white, perhaps washed out by the blast of lightning.

Dark, tousled hair hung over the boy’s forehead, framing twin pits that were pure black where the boy’s eyes should be.

His mouth was a crimson slash beneath an upturned nose. The boy was maybe 70 pounds and dressed in tattered jeans and sporting an inane tee-shirt emblazoned with the infamous Rolling Stone tongue.

And no shoes.

The boy stopped before Mason, still silent and still soundless while the skies rumbled and belched. Mason stepped toward the boy, then paused when he spied twin tracks of glistening moisture tracing down the boy’s cheeks, and a sudden, overwhelming wave of utter sadness beset him.

“Who are you? What’s wrong?”

The boy raised his arm, extended his hand, and that hand clutched a square of what appeared to be paper.

Mason gingerly reached for the paper, took it; eyes locked on the strange boy as his hand fell lifeless to his side.

He looked at what he’d taken from the boy. It was a photograph, though it was difficult to discern details in the pre-dawn gloom, then the skies cooperated by unleashing a jagged blast across the horizon, and the details of the picture swam into focus.

Mason recognized his mother. She was seated in the photo, and perched on her lap was…

A boy.

Mason. And…

The boy before him.

“I don’t…” He looked down at the picture again. She was smiling, utterly radiant; the look of love she had for the boy on her lap…

Mason’s eyes were streaming, his vision blurred. He remembered all that he struggled for so long to forget, and he wept, sinking to his knees against the rough and splintery dock; great, heaving sobs wracking his body.

He felt a gentle touch on his heavily muscled shoulder, and he looked up into the eyes of the boy. Into his eyes. Eyes that wept just as intensely as he wept.

“Please forgive me, Mom! Please…”

The heavens split horizontally with a mammoth blast, and then the rains came.

But Mason kept that picture dry as he moved on cat feet away from the end of the dock.

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Please visit Enzo on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011

Calliope Njo: Finals

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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Finals

Calliope Njo  

The final elements exam was coming up and I needed to study. I didn’t even know why we had to know it. Conjure whatever up and that was it. We only needed to know how to work the spells.

Fire came from a combination of… what? Oh, teach me not to take notes. This big and old thick book took centuries to look anything up.

And magic wouldn’t work on it.

I’m going to flunk this, and then I’m going to have to take this series of studies all over again.

Why don’t I quit now and pretend to live in the nonmagic mortal world, happy and cozy? It wouldn’t be happy and cozy. It would be miserable. Those days of wishing for anything I wanted disappeared. Until I learned all of this stuff anyway.

I hated this. All right. Try to find something to relate to the stuff I needed to know.

Somebody cleared their throat. I ignored it because I had more important things to worry about. Go ahead and turn me into a frog. Go ahead. It would give me an excuse.

It got louder.

“What? Can’t you see I’m busy? I’m trying to find some information that I need to know but I don’t have that information. So I have to find another way of getting that information. So if you don’t mind… .”

“What is your name again?” a woman asked.

“Call me Gigi. It’s easier. What? Just turn me into a frog already.” There had to be something here.

“My name is Hortense, by the way. From the Eastwick House. We could put our resources together and study. That would be better. Right?”

I looked up.

She laughed.

Wait a minute. Hortense Eastwick came from the House of Blood. “You’re not a Magic Caster. You’re a vampire. A recruiter of sorts. Vampires have the ability to seduce and hypnotize anyone. So the term recruiter is more of a label than anything else. Why are you here?” I stood up and papers and books fell off my lap.

She floated towards me which confirmed my suspicion. “Because I need a new member of the family. New blood needs to be added, you see.”

I backed away. “Not mine. I deny your request.”

She hissed and backed away from me. “We will see.” Out she flew.

Deep breath in and out before getting back to my disaster. Somewhere among all of this, I had to have the answers. I didn’t want to fail.

I fell to the floor and picked up each individual piece of paper, note, scrap, or whatever I had any writing on and put them into a pile. I wanted to stack them, but with the way my luck was running, it would collapse as soon as I did that. So studying on the floor it was.

When someone sat on the floor, that spot provided the best view of shoes. Everybody wore the same ugly black ones with the brass buckle in the middle and about as heavy and comfortable as a cauldron. Good size ranges, though. It went from tiny to gigantic and back again.

“What are you doing?” someone behind me asked.

“I need the notes to the elements lecture. I was hoping I had it but I couldn’t find them, which meant, I had to look at the big book of answers but I didn’t want to because those answers would take an eternity to search for.” Ketchup? Why did I need ketchup? Why did I even still have that receipt? Focus, idiot. Focus.

“Why didn’t you say so?” She put papers on my pile that had the elements notes.

“Yes. Thank you. A combination of hot and dry produced fire.” I should’ve known that. It was basic.

I spent the night grabbing snacks, copying notes, and sorting them in order to study. By the time the sun streamed through the window, my mind had turned to mush. That flavorless goop was mislabeled as food. Maybe I could grab a little sleep. Only a few winks.

Head on top of books, close the eyes, and—the morning bell sounded. I stood up and hoped beyond hope that I remembered all of what I read. Who was I kidding? I forgot everything.

I got cleaned up as much as I could. At the very least, I didn’t want to look like I never slept. Made it to breakfast and finished said meal. That left a few minutes between the morning routine and the first test.

I leaned against a wall and closed my eyes. Not quiet and not the best place, but it had to do. A stench reached my nostrils. I knew that stench.

“Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping by now? Not to mention, you could use” — I scanned her from top to bottom — “some color. Please leave.” I closed my eyes.

She must’ve leaned in closer because that smell got stronger. “You owe me.”

“I owe you nothing. Now just go away.” I tried to push her away but it didn’t work. She stood there and stared at me.

“You will after I grant you a gift.” She smiled enough for me to see her fangs.

“Any gift granted to anyone from a vampire must pay with their soul. Vampires will do anything for such a prize. So beware. Not necessarily a lesson, so much as a rule of survival one of my teachers said once.” Damn. The bell rung. Thanks a lot. I picked up my books and left the area.

I made sure to walk in the sun. The route took longer but I did it in order to keep her away. Then the smell of flowers filled the air. Never so glad.

The first class was composition. We had to write an essay on our favorite spell and why in five paragraphs. That one wasn’t so bad. I only hoped there were no spelling errors.

The next one was formulation. Put together a potion and the results of said potion, being sure the herbs and amounts used were correct. The wording used to inform the person about the potion needed to be correct as well. Any misinformation would cost us a higher percentage point.

Then came the elements exam. The students that came before me didn’t show any emotion, so I couldn’t tell if they passed or not. There were no max points or such. It was either you got it or not.

With fifteen people in the class, I was chosen as being the last one. That gave me the opportunity to watch the students before me. I heard some of them answer questions, and based on our teacher’s reactions, only a few got a nod. That nod would make a difference later.

Everybody left, so it was my turn. The question he asked me seemed basic enough. I needed to fill in the blanks. “First element and transformation powers.” I smiled. It couldn’t hurt.

He nodded. I got a nod.

Then he told me to conjure lightning. Lightning? I didn’t remember any notes on lightning. I knew what to do and how to do it so I had to accomplish the unexpected.

Sorting through my tired brain took a bit. I put pink lightning in the sky. I liked that color and I thought it would look pretty.

He lowered and shook his head before he looked at me. “Pink? Is there pink lightning in nature?”

“I could change it but I thought it would look” — I yawned — “pretty.” Not a time for that.

“Very well. You have passed the test. And get some sleep before you do something that can’t be reversed. Clear?”

I was so happy, I could conjure an entire fireworks display. “Yes, sir.” I passed. I could sleep.

I somehow made it back to the room. With the bed in sight, I went for it. I lay down on the cot and closed my eyes. No intention of getting up any time soon.

“Well, well, well,” Hortense said in my ear. “Who do we have here sleeping in this nice warm bed?”

“I’m going to find the sharpest and the pointiest stick and stab you with it if you don’t stop.” I opened my eyes and lifted my head. “Why me? There’s plenty of other, I don’t know, people out there. So go bother them.” I lay down on my bed while hoping she took the hint.

“Aw. I’m hurt.” She sniffed a couple of times.

“Yeah. Right.” Wait a minute. The sun is up and it’s shining right on her and she did not disintegrate. “Why aren’t you powder?”

“Oh. Well. You see, I’m not a full-blood. I can go out whenever I want. So, can we play?”

“You gotta be lying to me.”

“Wake up and look for yourself.”

“Don’t want to. Don’t care to. Go crawl back to those underground tunnels you guys took from us and go feed on rats or something.”

“Yuck. Have you ever tasted one? Those are disgusting.”

I had it. “Leave. Me. Alone. I. Deny. Your. Presence.” I held the pillow over my head.

“You’ll be sorry.”

I didn’t hear her anymore so I assumed she left. I went back to sleep for what I hoped would be the rest of the day, but no.

“Oh. Gigi, love. They posted the results.”

I sat up. “They did.” I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

We ran toward the Results Boards and looked for our numbers. “I got into the ninety-percentile range.” I passed. I did great.

“So did I. So. Rome? London? Oh, wait. Skip London. I got family there and if they see me that means the end of my fun. Oh, how about Edinburgh.”

I smiled. “Rome it is.” I wandered around the room to see what I could pick up that was mine. I so wanted to get back the ability to conjure spells, but until the results were confirmed, it was doing it the mortal way.

I found my carpetbag and put everything in. Lucky for us, the travel station had pathways that led to certain areas of the world. All one had to do was get there. Well, proper ID and money were involved, but it was possible.

Down the hill, through the woods, to the right, and into the city. From there under the bridge and into the tunnels. Bloodsuckers tended not to use these because of the holes in the top. They let in light.

Turn right and then left and up to the ticket booth. I let Agatha choose. A door opened and in we went.

Pathways came into being as one ended. Then that smell again. Why couldn’t this be simple?

“Hold on. Agatha?”

“What? You want to rest?”

I pointed to Hortense with my head.

“Oh. Let me know if you want help.” Agatha put down her bags and sat on them.

“We’ve been through this already. Twice. Are you that dense or that stupid?”

She laughed.

This got damned annoying. “What part of that was funny? The dense or the stupid part?” I went through my head of possible spells. Problem was, vampires were often quicker than anything that might work.

“Hmm. Oh.” She smiled and floated towards me. “You see. Not everyone is forgiving. As a matter of fact, our interactions have come to the attention of others. It has become a challenge. A challenge with the prize of your blood. So you see, you need me.”

“Like I need a wart on my nose. Who would come after me during the day?”

She smiled even wider. “You have no idea.” She flew away.

We got going again and into Rome. The Roman Coliseum would forever be a beautiful sight. To go back in time and sit next to Julius Caesar. As long as we’re careful, nobody would know.

“Oh. I know what you’re thinking.” Agatha smiled. “Let’s get something to eat first. Then we’ll go.”

“Oh right. OK.”

We stopped by a local place and had some pasta. Never so happy to have something as normal as pasta. People said I was addicted. I didn’t have a problem with that. The herbs, vegetables, and textures suited me perfectly.

We returned to the Roman Coliseum and walked through time. We sat next to each other with the other people and watched the gladiators fight to the end.

Swords, daggers, nets, maces, and hand-to-hand combat made for an exciting time both against each other and animals. All that blood but the excitement was palpable with all of that energy. The fact that one was a woman and the other a man made it more intense.

When the games were done, we returned back to our time. At least we saw a game. The sun began to set and Agatha was hungry again.

This time, it was seafood. Fresh seafood had a flavor all its own. No matter how fresh frozen it was. There was no comparison. Butter and lemon were all that was needed to season our dish.

At sunup the following day, we returned back to our academy. We had a good time and needed that break. At least I know I did.

I went back to my room and found somebody else in my bed. “Excuse me. You’re in my bed.”

He was a small boy with brown hair. A little overweight too with buck teeth. “No, I not. I here.”

I left the room to look for the room assignment posting. I made it to the housing office to ask about my room.

“Happy travels, ma’am.” I nodded my head. “Where can I find the room assignments posting?”

A clipboard made itself known. “Name please?”

“Gingin-Ambretta Digiello. I’m a product of two houses that haven’t formed a union. The age-long dispute over property hasn’t been solved yet.”

Papers flipped. “Yes. There you are. You are housed in the Western Province building. Third floor. Left room.”

What? That couldn’t be. “Do you need me to repeat the name?”

“That is not necessary. According to our showings, you are now in the Master’s Class. You scored high enough to make it to the highest level we offer.”

Oh, my magic wand. It couldn’t be. Did I do that well?

I ran out of the office to look for the scores sheet, again. Maybe I missed something the first time. I found it hanging on the door of the main entrance. I almost fainted. Ten students, including me, made it into the top percentage category. How was that possible? Should I even have questioned that?

Oh, my magic wand.

Without any knowledge of how I got there, I stood in front of the door with the letters L-E-F-T on it. I was one of the elite students.

“Gingin-Ambretta I take it?” somebody asked.

Something touched me. With my mouth open, I turned towards the voice. “Huh?”

She laughed. “There is still time to recover from the news. In the meantime, my name is Cressida. I am of the highest rank here, and therefore, the one responsible for everyone’s behavior. When you can function again, turn the doorknob.”

“Huh? OK. Nighty night.”

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

D. A. Ratliff: The Watch

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The Watch

D. A. Ratliff

The boat rocked gently against the piling. The calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico lapped against the hull while thunder echoed in the distance as lightning streaked across the sky. He waited, watching boats coming in and out of the bay. One of these nights, his quarry would show up.

~~~

It was six a.m. when Sam Jones finished fueling the Hatteras Sport yacht. The owner, Dennis Brady, was taking a group of his business associates into the Gulf for a day of fishing, and he had come in at six-thirty to fuel the boat and wipe down the morning dew. Brady and his friends were on board, already drinking Bloody Marys. He had yet to have coffee.

Brady’s captain announced he was ready to leave, and Sam slipped the docking lines from the boat cleats, glad that Brady hired a captain. Otherwise, he would have alerted the Coast Guard to be on the lookout for a group of drunken businessmen.

He wiped the sweat from his brow as he retreated to the cool quiet of the Marina office. He loved the heat, but August in southwest Florida was brutal. The humidity was thick, clammy on his skin, and his shirt was already damp from sweat.

He made a pot of coffee, settled behind the desk that the marina manager insisted he have—insisted because the manager shoved the paperwork onto him when he could, which gave his boss more time to schmooze with the yacht club members, especially the female ones.

At least the coffee was good, and as he drank, he checked the fuel levels in the tanks. It wouldn’t be wise to run out of gas or diesel when one of the members wanted to cruise the Gulf. Temper tantrums by grown men were not pretty.

A bit past eight, Marty Wicker, Yacht Club Marina Manager—it said so right on his white golf shirt—finally arrived for work. His glassy eyes were a dead giveaway. He’d been partying all night. Marty headed straight to the coffee pot, took the pot and a mug to his desk, and sank into his chair.

“Ah, Sam, what a night.”

Sam choked back the words he wanted to say and chose to stay strictly business. “Checked the fuel tanks and ordered more for delivery on Thursday.”

Marty slugged back coffee. “Yikes… that’s hot.” He struggled to talk. “That bloody annual summer picnic is this weekend, isn’t it? I forgot.”

“Yep.” Sam rose. “Now that you are here, I’m going to check the boats. Also did the dock assistants’ schedules, and I’ll do inventory in the marine store.” Before Marty could answer, Sam left.

The sun was burning hot, and the glare from the chrome boat trims and cleats on the dock blinded him. He slipped on his Wayfarers and walked to the store to find the door locked. The store opened at eight a.m., and Frankie was late again. He unlocked the door, turned over the open sign, and began taking inventory.

Frankie stumbled into the store at nine-fifteen. He stopped in his tracks when he saw Sam. “Hey, man, sorry. Couldn’t wake up.”

“Luckily, only one customer came in, picking up a prepaid order. Get the computer up while I finish inventory.”

“You aren’t the boss of me, Jones.”

“Marty made me his assistant. That makes me the boss of you. Now go to work.”

He finished the inventory and laid the inventory check sheet on the counter. “Fill out the purchase requests and bring them to the office.”

Sam decided to walk around the marina and check out the boats, fixing a loose mooring line, trash on the dock—all liabilities for the club. He’d worked there for six months and knew the troublesome members.

During the summer season, the marina worked on a skeleton crew. The members who owned the majority of the boats and yachts berthed there only wintered in the area. They just needed to keep them maintained and as secure as possible in case of a hurricane. It might be hotter than Hades, but it was also a good time to live in southwest Florida. Restaurants uncrowded, no dodging snowbird traffic, or “q-tips” as the local kids called them, because, from behind over a car’s headrest, all that anyone could see of a driver was white hair.

Activity at the dock was slow, and he took a break around two p.m. He flopped down in a lounge chair under the covered patio to eat his ice cream cone and enjoy the view. Giant thunderheads were building on the horizon, and like clockwork, by three in the afternoon, the sky would open up and dump rain on the city.

The marina office was in his line of sight, and his skin prickled a bit as he saw Marty and Frankie emerge. As Frankie started to walk away, Marty grabbed his arm and stuck a finger in his face. They were arguing. Sam had his suspicions they were dealing drugs at the club, but no proof. There had to be a reason that Marty didn’t fire Frankie despite his tardiness and insolence.

Sam got up. There was a water hose that needed to be wound on the reel. Bill Tanner never recoiled the hose when he sprayed off his boat but left it lying in the middle of the dock. He had just hung the hose up with the task when Brady’s big Hatteras came into the bay. He marveled at the skill of the captain as he eased the sixty-foot yacht into the berth. He tied off the dock lines and waited to assist Brady and his guests off the boat. As he suspected, several were drunk.

He and the captain unloaded the gear and coolers and aided the unsteady men. Brady was drunk, loud, and yelling at the captain to get the fish they caught to the dining room for dinner that night. The men headed to the fitness center for showers.

Sam watched as Brady parted company with his guests and headed toward the marine store. He wasn’t inside long but came out slipping something in his pocket. Sam’s spidey sense kicked in. Something was going on at the yacht club, and he was pretty confident it was drug dealing.

Marty left at five. Sam scoffed—the manager enjoyed bankers’ hours. The marina closed at seven in the summer. However, members with keycards could come and go as they pleased. A dock assistant stayed until ten p.m. if anyone needed gas, and a security guard worked overnight. Tired after a long, sweltering day, Sam locked the office at seven and headed home in a raging thunderstorm.

~~~

Sam stood in the shower under the strong spray until the water became tepid. He was drying off when his phone rang. He padded into the living room, where he’d left his cell, and answered.

“Sam, how are things going?”

“Hey, Tim. Caught me in tonight. Nasty storm out there. Brady’s getting active. He’s been taking groups of what he calls associates out to fish. They are at the club now having dinner, but I doubt he’s taking the boat out again tonight. If he does, I’ll know. Pretty sure Marty and Frankie are dealing drugs out of the marine store but hard to get proof. And I don’t have enough to get a surveillance warrant yet. Judges don’t like ‘I think’ as a reason for a warrant.”

Tim chuckled. “No, they don’t. With Brady in New York for three months, it screwed up our operation.”

“Tell me about it. I’m now the assistant marina manager.”

“Coming up in the world, Sam.”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“Okay, I have the Coast Guard and DEA on standby. We go on your signal.”

“I think Brady is lining up buyers, and I suspect the drop will come soon.”

“We’ll be ready.”

Brady made his money in the 1990s as a venture capitalist. He survived the dot.com era with loads of money, tainted money if the rumors were correct, and that Brady participated in some shady deals. There were a few members of the club Sam suspected might be involved. People who made too much money and possessed no clues about how to handle it. Brady, however, was his target.

His stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten since the ice cream cone. Food delivery to the rescue—then sleep. Tomorrow he needed to snoop about the marina store.

~~~

Friday dawned as hot and sticky as the previous day. By ten a.m. Sam’s marina shirt was sticking to his torso, and sweat poured down his brow. The weekends during the summer were not as hectic as those during the winter season, but the heat made each task harder to accomplish. Parched, he headed toward the snack bar when he saw two members walk into the marine store. The store sold bottled water. He’d go there.

Sam pushed the door open. Both members looked over their shoulders, eyes widened. Frankie dropped his hands beneath the counter, out of sight. Sam cocked his head toward the cooler.

“Just getting water. Put it on my employee tab, please.”

Frankie nodded, and Sam took a water bottle and stopped before he left and spoke to the members. “Everything okay with your berths? Anything you need done? Now’s a good time while it’s slow.”

One man glanced at the other then responded. “No, you guys do a great job. Everything’s great.”

“Good. Just let us know.” Sam exited the store and headed to the nearest boat, where he appeared to be checking a rope knot. He had a clear line of sight to the store, and in a matter of seconds, the two members left and headed for the clubhouse.

He’d had all the employees checked out. Frankie had misdemeanor charges for shoplifting and petty theft as a teenager. Sam questioned Marty about Frankie’s hire, considering the club had strict rules against hiring anyone with a record. Marty tossed it off—somebody’s nephew, a favor, or someone owed a favor. Not the case at all. Frankie was here for a reason.

Brady arrived about two in the afternoon with six men. Sam recognized two of them, drug cartel members from Peru and Mexico. From the accents, the others were foreign as well. They retired to a private dining room for lunch, and Sam’s frustration grew. There was never enough evidence to get wiretaps, so no one was listening.

Sam watched, waited for Brady to leave. His target always left the club by the rear entrance, usually walking to his boat for a quick look over. He didn’t disappoint. Brady headed to his boat, guests in tow. Sam grabbed his phone, holding it up to his ear as if he were talking, and tapped the button and took a blast of photos. After the men were out of sight, he texted the photos to Tim, hoping to ID the men and find out who Brady was buddying up with—bad players without a doubt.

The afternoon was slow, and Sam left around six. With the forecast for a calm sea, he grabbed chicken wings for dinner and planned to head to his favorite spot to watch the boat traffic and wait for Brady to take a night spin.

His twenty-seven-foot Boston Whaler Dauntless, his pride and joy, was in a slip at the condo he rented. He drove a ten-year-old beat-up Ford, but the boat was his passion. The reason his superiors chose him to go undercover at the yacht club was his boating knowledge. As he backed out of his berth, he chuckled. At least he had a new career should he decide to leave the FBI. As he idled through the no-wake zone, Tim called.

“You hit the mother-load. We ID’ed four of the men Brady had lunch with today, all members of drug cartels—a Mexican, Canadian, Peruvian, and Slovakian. Still working on the other two, but no doubt they are cartel members as well. Rivers at DEA thinks Brady is putting together a global cartel. That is a recipe for a blood bath. DEA and Coast Guard are upping patrols in the area, and we have a team watching the marina. So if you need backup, yell.”

Sam thanked him and cruised toward the old pilings of dock along the shore, near the opening to the Gulf. He shut off the motor and drifted to a piling where he loosely tied a rope to a mooring ring. Then he waited.

There were thunderheads in the distance over the Gulf, but the sky above him was clear, and he could see a myriad of stars. He gazed upward, his eye catching a moving light that crisscrossed the sky—DEA planes looking for boats smuggling drugs. There were more of those in the Gulf than the average citizen knew.

He watched as boats out for night fishing moved toward their favorite spots. A dive boat went by, loud music and laughter, as they headed for their dive site. He waited as he had many nights for Brady to make a move. He wasn’t foolish enough to think that Brady would be present if a shipment of drugs came in, but the man’s ego was enormous. He would want to see his prize. Sam counted on that.

Clouds were moving in, and streaks of neon pink lightning struck the water in the distance. So much for calm seas, and he considered heading back when his phone dinged—a text from Tim.

DEA spotted small freighter deviating from filed route, heading for your location, Coast Guard and DEA on intercept. Surveillance reports Brady left house, appears en route to marina.

Sam untied the mooring line and started the Whaler. He needed to get to the marina first.

As he eased up to the gas dock, the hair stood up on the back of his neck. The night dock assistant should have left the booth as soon as he saw the boat approach. He didn’t. He knew the kid on duty. Wally was responsible, he wouldn’t have left the dock with an arriving boat. Something was wrong. He pulled his gun and badge from a compartment, tucked the gun in his back waistband, his badge in a pocket.

He nudged the dock, slung a rope over a deck cleat, then hopped out of the boat, tying off the rope line. As he turned around, heat flushed through him, but he remained stoic. Marty was standing in front of him.

“Sam, what brings you here so late? And that’s a pretty expensive boat for a marina jockey.”

“Not mine, taking it out for a friend, said the motor was skipping. Need to fuel up, so I stopped for gas.” Sam unscrewed the gas cap on the gunwale. “What are you doing out here so late? Where’s Wally?”

“Called me, sick. I sent him home.”

“Oh, okay. Well, going to fill this up so I can get this boat back to my buddy.”

Sam reached for the gas pump nozzle, risking taking his eyes off Marty. That was a mistake. A sharp blow to the back of the head, and he fell to the deck unconscious.

~~~

He woke up. His nostrils were full of the stench of oil, lubricant, and disinfectant. He was in the chemical shed where they kept cans of oil and cleaning supplies. He lay on his side in a fetal position, his hands and feet tied. There was a body next to him.

“Wally? You alive?”

“Yeah, man. What the hell is going on? Frankie showed up, and he hit me. I woke up here.”

“Are you facing me?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you get to my hands and try to untie me?”

“I’ll try. Gonna have to use my teeth.”

“Try, I’ll pay your dental bill.”

Several agonizing minutes passed as Wally tugged on the knot with his teeth. Sam was about to give up when the rope came loose. He rolled over and began untying the rope around his ankles.

“Good job.”

Wally snickered. “Bad knot.”

Sam freed Wally, then cracked open the door. The shed sat behind the booth the dock assistants used. He figured his gun and phone were in there.

“Wally, stay put and do not make a sound. I think I can make it to the booth and get my gun and phone.”

“Gun? Who the hell are you?”

“I’m an FBI agent here undercover. Stay put.”

Another glance out the door, then Sam dashed the booth. The small booth had room for a desk, a file cabinet, two chairs, entry on the side, and a window to the front. He slipped inside and peeked out the window. Marty and Frankie were standing next to his Whaler. Carefully, Sam opened the window so he could hear them.

“Bastard is a Fed. They’re on to us, Marty. We need to get out of here.”

“We aren’t going anywhere, not until we get our share. Mr. Brady said after the shipment arrived, he’d send us to Mexico. We can lie low there awhile. We’re gonna be rich, and remember, if you weren’t my nephew, you wouldn’t be here.”

“If this goes bad, they’re gonna kill us.”

“Shut up. When Brady gets here, we’ll take this boat. No one will recognize it.”

“Why does he want to go out there?”

“He wants to watch the first exchange of the cargo, $250 million worth. Brady risked a lot getting this new cartel together. He wants to gloat.”

Sam found his phone, gun, and badge, and Wally’s phone in a drawer. He texted Tim.

Ship carrying 250M of coke. Brady on his way here. Marty and Frankie part of this. Caught me but escaped, have gun. Will keep them at the dock until team gets here.

He checked the magazine in his Glock Gen 5—full, so he had ten rounds. It would have to do.

Tim texted. Roger. FBI and LEO notified. ETA 7 mins. Agents following Brady report approaching marina.

As Sam was about to respond, Brady walked into view. Brady’s here.

“Nice boat, where’d you get this?

“Sam, my assistant. Bastard’s FBI. He was snooping around. Got him and that snot kid Wally tied up in the chemical shed.”

“FBI? Let’s get out of here. Well, take the Whaler to go to freighter and then you guys drop me off at my house and leave town. You know the drop for your money and passports. I’ll send someone to clean up this mess and be out of town behind you.”

Sam couldn’t wait. He stepped into the open, gun raised. “It’s over, Brady. We know what you are up to, and you’re going down for this. DEA and Coast Guard have already found the freighter. Your global cartel is dead in the water.”

Brady pulled a gun from his hip, shooting at Sam. The bullet ricocheted off the gas pump and barely missed striking Sam, who fired back. Brady was fast for a man his size and pulled Frankie in front of him. Sam’s round struck Frankie in the abdomen. Brady threw him aside and fired again. Sam ducked behind the booth and saw Wally stick his head out the door. “Get back inside!”

He had to draw fire away from Wally. He moved to the far corner of the booth. “Brady, my team is almost here. Give up. You have nowhere to go.” 

Sam heard shuffling around the corner and reacted just as Marty appeared, gun in hand. They fired simultaneously. Marty’s bullet missed. Sam’s did not. Marty dropped to the concrete, and Sam kicked the gun away and stepped into the open.

Brady was on the Whaler, at the wheel. “Stop, Brady. It’s over.”

Brady fired again and turned the key on the Whaler.

Hearing footsteps and yells of “FBI” from behind, Sam fired, and Brady slumped over the wheel.

Sam lowered his weapon. “Great, there’s blood on my boat.”

~~~

A week later, Sam and Tim were sitting on the Whaler in the bay. It was midday, sun hot and beer cold.

“Sam, hell of a bust. When Brady gets out of the hospital, he is facing serious charges. When you get back to Tampa, the office has a party planned. And so you know, Frankie and Marty are chattering like little birds. We’ve got him. And got a lot of members for buying drugs.”

Sam smiled. “That we do.” He ran his hand across the captain’s chair. “And the blood is gone.” 

A rumble of thunder drifted from a bank of thunderheads, lightning flashing across the sky. Sam smiled. Nothing better than a good cleansing thunderstorm.

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