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Paula Shablo: Love Letters

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! 

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

Love Letters

Paula Shablo

“Hi, Dad.”

“Hey, Penny. What’s up?” Dad was draped across his bed like a throw blanket, with his new puppy, Stub, snuggled in the small of his back. He was reading something—like me, if he found any books while salvaging, he brought them back.

Stub opened one eye, looked me over, and closed it again. Clearly, I was no threat to his bed. I grinned. “You’re going to be sorry for that when he’s grown and still wants to sleep like that,” I said.

Dad chuckled. “I think there might be some Golden Retriever in this guy,” he remarked. “I’m just glad we came across the litter so soon after his mama…well…”

A few days before, Dad and a couple of his friends had returned to camp with a litter of pups, seven in all. They had found the mother—what was left of her—while picking apples in a small orchard they’d discovered. She’d clearly been attacked and killed by something, probably a big cat, and it was obvious that she’d recently given birth, so they’d gone on a search for the puppies.

“You ‘came across,’ yeah,” I said. Beyond that, neither of us really wanted to talk about it. The puppies were alive, they were here now and being cared for, and nothing else mattered. I crossed to the bed and gave the pup a pat, then leaned down to nuzzle his little face when he looked up expectantly. “Cutie pie.”

Dad started to move, and I told him to stay put. “You’re fine, you look so comfortable.”

“My legs are asleep,” he informed me. “If I tried to stand up, I would fall on my face.”

I giggled and lifted Stub off his back so he could roll over and sit up. 

“Ahhhh.” It was half groan, half sigh. “Penny, I think I’m getting old.”

“Getting?”

“Ouch!” He gave me a rueful smile. He pointed to the book. “You might want to read this one when I finish,” he said. “It’s pretty good.”

I looked at the cover. “Stephen King? I’m down.”

He didn’t tell me I was too young for it. Some of the parents here do that, but that’s not Dad’s style. His style is, “If there’s something you don’t understand, come and find me and I’ll try to explain it.” Emphasis on try—even Dads don’t know everything.

I like it when I like my Dad. Today I’m feeling really good about him, and I appreciate that.

Some days, I am irrationally angry with him, even after all the time that has passed since Mamma died. I don’t know why I’m so awful; I just am.

But not today.

“I still have the photo album,” I told him. “We really like looking at the pictures.”

“You’re welcome to keep it with your things,” he told me. He smiled rather shyly. “I’ve been looking for a picture frame out there,” he admitted. “There’s a photo of us I’d like to hang on the wall…”

“Oh, Dad, I bet I know the one!”

“I bet you do, too.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open when we go out,” I promised. Surely a picture frame could be found somewhere.

“Thanks.”

“Anyway, I wanted to ask if I could look through the other boxes sometime. The ones I didn’t look in once I found what I was looking for the other day.”

“Of course, you can. Do you know what you’re looking for this time?”

“Not even a clue,” I admitted. “I just…it just makes me feel good, looking. And we really needed these,” I added, gesturing to the combs I’d woven into my unruly curls. I’d found a lot of hair accessories the last time I’d gotten into the boxes, and Dad had turned those over to us, admitting that he’d barely looked at Mamma’s things.

“That looks very nice.”

“Thanks!”

Stub was starting to squirm, and Daddy stood up and took him from me. “Someone needs a trip outside, I think,” he said. “Have fun, Penny. And—”

“Please put things away when you’re done,” I finished. We both chuckled, and Dad hurried away with his new little buddy.

Alone, I surveyed the stack of boxes in the corner. The last time I’d been looking for a locket, I quit going through things when I found it in the third box.

This time, I was just…looking.

Well.

I did have some hopes of finding other photographs since Mae and Dawn had really enjoyed the wedding album.

I moved the first two boxes aside. The third we had pretty much emptied, adding to our hair-care stash. I had put Mamma’s jewelry box on Daddy’s nightstand. It looked nice there, and he hadn’t objected or moved it. I regarded the empty wall space above it and made a mental note to tell anyone going out to salvage to keep an eye open for picture frames.

The next box in line yielded nothing of use. Old tax forms, medical records, immunization records, and all our birth certificates and social security cards were in a metal file box. Just seeing that sort of thing made me realize how much hope my mother had had that the future would hold some normalcy.

It was sort of depressing. I took my old marker out of my pocket and wrote “Old World Paperwork” on the box. Nothing meant anything anymore, really, but I would leave any decision making up to Daddy.

A little curious, I did examine all the birth certificates. I suppose it can’t hurt anything to know how old we are. Mae likes knowing what time it is, and what the date is, so I knew this would be something she’d be interested in.

Time goes by—this I know; and beyond that, I’m not all that fussed about whether it’s Tuesday or Saturday. Maybe someday it will matter to me, but not now. Let Mae be the timekeeper.

The next box was more to my liking. It was actually a very large-sized Rubbermaid storage chest, and inside there were stacks of photo albums, loose photographs, and—oh, wow! Our baby books!

I was surprised to see those and more surprised to discover that there were also baby books for Mamma and Daddy. She must have been saving those for years, and it made me wonder about my paternal grandparents. They were both gone before I was even born.

I decided it wouldn’t be fair for me to look through all this alone. We should look as a family. But when I was putting the books back, I discovered a stack of letters at the bottom of the box. I lifted them out, replaced the books, and went to sit on the bed.

Without consideration, I opened the first letter.

“My Love,

“From the first day I met you, my heart no longer resided inside my own body. You carry it with you now, and I can only hope you keep it guarded closely next to your own.”

Oh. I should stop reading, I thought.

I didn’t.

There followed a bit more mushy stuff, and then this curious phrase: “I now believe I should go bald. It is getting hot.”

My Daddy? Bald? What did that mean?

Next, he wrote, “My C.O. has promised I will be home in plenty of time to greet our newest miracle.”

(So this was before Dawn was born!)

“I cannot wait to see you all and hold you in my arms again.

“Kiss my Copper and Belle.”

(That would be me and Mae. He called us Copper Penny and Mae Belle. Pet names; it’s a Dad thing.)

I shook my head as I searched through the stack of letters, slipping first one and then another in and out of the twine-tied bundle. I made up my mind not to read any more—they were private love letters, after all.

Then I saw the envelope marked “To My Copper Penny.”

Well. It’s addressed to me! I can certainly read this one.

Suddenly, a huge lump rose in my throat, and I was nearly overcome with tears. I blinked them back and chided myself for being silly.

I just didn’t remember ever getting a letter from my father.

“Hello, my good-luck Penny!

“Even though I’m pretty sure you are a genius, your Mamma tells me you haven’t learned to read yet. I guess we will have to let her help you read this, and trust that she won’t let it go to her head when I tell you, in secret, that I think your mother is beautiful.

“I am writing today to thank you for the beautiful picture you drew for me. I have hung it on my wall, and everyone here agrees it is the best piece of artwork in this whole place. I sent you a picture!”

I looked inside the envelope, and sure enough, there was a photograph of Daddy, showing off what was a childish—but recognizable—rendition of a barn owl. His smile was huge and proud. Hot tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d tried.

“I am so proud of you, Penny, for being such a good helper for Mamma and such a great big sister to Mae. And the new baby will be blessed with you, too. I want you to know that I worry less about everyone, knowing you are there. You have a great heart. I hope no one ever breaks it.

“I love you very much.

“Daddy.”

I remembered the drawing. For a little while, when I was really little, I was enamored with the messenger owls in the old Harry Potter movies Mamma had collected. When we got our mail, I would ask where the owls were. So, when Mamma said she was sending a letter to Daddy, of course I had to send an owl.

Of course! Mail should come with owls.

Memories are hard; even the good ones are hard.

I put the letter and the photo back into the envelope and tucked it into the front of my shirt. I was sure no one would mind if I kept my own letter.

I brushed tears away and then I returned the rest of the letters to their original place, underneath the baby books. I pushed the container over to sit next to the doorway until Daddy came back.

The rest of the boxes could wait until the next time I felt up to looking. There weren’t many left.

I heard Daddy coming. He was whistling some unfamiliar tune. “Hey, Lucky Penny!” he said. “Find anything good?”

“Lots of pictures. And baby books!”

“Really?” Daddy sighed. “I suppose I should have opened those boxes before now, but…well, I just…”

“I know, Daddy. But I want to look at all the pictures. Can we do it all together? Just the family?”

“Absolutely.” He reached to pat my head. Hesitated, because he never could tell with me; I can be kind of mean.

I hugged him. He hugged me back, and I could feel the love he has. The love he always has, even when I am being mean.

“Do you want Grandma and Gramps, too?”

“Not yet. Just you and me, and Mae Belle and Light of Dawn.”

I was still clinging to him and felt him chuckle. “You have a weird Daddy, don’t you?”

“Just a little weird,” I agreed.

Stub wiggled over to us, lifted a little leg, and peed on Dad’s foot.

So much for a serious moment—we didn’t stop laughing for a while after that.

I do need to ask him about going bald, though. That was a weird phrase…

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

D. A. Ratliff: Tied With Twine

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! 

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

A Detective Elija Boone Mystery

Tied With Twine 

D. A. Ratliff


Louisa DeLong wrapped her arms around her, pulling her sweater tighter against her slender body. Mist floated in the air, obscuring the trees as she made her way along the Bayou Lafourche in the early morning hours. The note clutched in her hand instructed her to meet him south of Lockport on LA-1 and park behind his truck. He would wait for her along the banks of the bayou.

She spotted his black truck, parked, and hurried across the road to the water’s edge. Shivering, she carefully picked her way through the underbrush and the gnarly roots covering the bank. Not seeing him, Louisa whispered his name. A twig broke behind her, but before she could turn around, arms swept over her head, hands holding a belt, and the thick, hard strap dug into her throat.

Instinct kicked in, and Louisa screamed, but her effort only resulted in a garbled groan. She attempted to tug at the belt digging into her flesh but couldn’t slip her fingers underneath. Her knees buckled, but pressure from the strap that pinned her against her assailant kept her from collapsing. A coppery taste filled her mouth, and the pain became unbearable as the belt sank into her throat. Her lungs struggled for air but lost the battle. As the world around her faded to blackness, her last thought was why.

~~~

“What the….” 

It took me a second to realize the ringing in my ear was my phone. I grabbed the offending device and might have answered gruffer than I should have.

“Don’t take my head off.” The aggravated voice of my partner, Hank Guidry, was gruff too.

“Sorry, didn’t sleep well. What’s up?”

“Captain got a call from the sheriff in Lafourche Parrish. They’re dredging the bayou there and found remains. Looks to be Louisa DeLong.”

I bolted upright. “You sure?”

“I’m not, but the captain is—said to get our butts down to Lafourche Parrish now.”

“You at the station?”

“Yeah.”

“Be out front in fifteen.”

I took the quickest shower I could, dressed, and left to pick up Guidry. If the remains were Louisa’s, maybe I could bring closure to a family I had become close to in the last seven years. Time I, Detective Elijah Boone, got a break.

~~~

We swung around to a fast-food joint for coffee and cardboard sandwiches. In a city known for its cuisine, having it ‘your way’ should mean, did you want shrimp or chicken etouffee, not dried out buns and flavorless meat. But I was hungry, and cops gotta eat when and where we can.

Hank offered me some of his fries, and I grabbed a couple. “Tell me what the sheriff said.”

“The state’s dredging the bayou after some barges got stuck and some areas flooded on high tide. This morning, just after daybreak, a backhoe was digging out along a bank. Operator pulled the bucket up, finding a chain dangling from a tooth. When the operator lifted the bucket higher, he saw a partial skeleton attached to the chain. Got divers in the water to recover the rest of the remains if they can.”

“What makes them think it’s Louisa?”

“Hand recovered had a ring still on a finger. Sheriff ran the description through the database, and the ring came back identified to the DeLong open case.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Sapphire and diamond ring?”

“Yeah.”

“I guess it’s her.”

Hank shifted in his seat. We weren’t partners when Louisa had gone missing seven years ago. My partner then was Allen Marco who had a fatal heart attack two weeks after Louisa went missing. He’d vowed to keep working to find her, and I suspected Hank knew this case was special to me.

“I know you worked on the case. LaSalle said it was a tough one.”

“Yeah. Louisa was a pretty girl. Sophomore at Tulane. Roommate Jenna Srathworth woke up about four a.m. on the morning she disappeared. Jenna asked her where she was going, but Louisa told her not to worry. She would be back soon.” I shut up for a second to get my voice under control. “No one saw her again.”

“No suspects?”

“None. Jenna said she knew Louisa was seeing someone but had no idea who. Louisa wouldn’t tell her.”

“Your partner, Marco, he died a couple of weeks later?”

I gripped the steering wheel. Losing Al still hurt. “Yeah, heart attack. Told him to stop smoking, but he just puffed away.” I remember his funeral. Al’s widow and two kids stood beside me in a Metairie cemetery as we watched his casket lowered into the ground. I shook it off.

“I was shocked at Al’s funeral to see Louisa’s parents, brother, and sister show up.”

“They came to Marco’s funeral?”

I nodded. “Good people. Felt we were trying to find their daughter and seemed genuinely sorry Al died. Stayed pretty close to them since then.”

Hank’s phone rang. It was forensics about another case we were currently investigating. After he ended the call, we talked about that case until we got to Lockport. The only directions I had was to keep on LA-1 past the shipyards until I spotted cruisers.

We fell silent as we got closer. Hank knew me pretty well, and I guess he could tell how the discovery of Louisa’s remains had affected me. A line of traffic cones slowed us down as only one lane was open. We stopped briefly as a flagger held us up. A lone commercial truck passed, and the flagger motioned us through.

We drove a short distance until we spotted several cruisers, blue lights flashing, parked on the right side of the road. Several officers were standing across the road on the narrow strip of land along the water.

It was July, and the second I opened the car door, the heavy humidity washed over me. I felt like I’d had a shower. I took off my suit jacket and noticed Hank did the same. The one thing we couldn’t get away from was the briny, fishy stench in the air. And I thought decomposed bodies smelled bad.

Sheriff Carlton Thibodeaux noticed us and waved us across the road. I’d met Thibodeaux before when his deputies caught a fugitive wanted by the NOLA police.

“Detective Boone, good to see you.”

“Good to see you, Sheriff. My partner, Hank Guidry.”

Thibodeaux nodded. “So it seems this gal’s the one who went missing a few years ago.”

“It appears that way. You got the ring here?”

“No, sent it back to the station with a deputy so we could run the photo through the database. I was surprised when we got a match.”

“So was I. Can I see the remains?”

“Yeah, sure, what there is.”

We climbed onto the berm that served as a flood barrier. A large barge dredging the main channel sat in front of the shipyard. A large backhoe, its bucket raised, brought in to dredge the bank, sat perched on the narrow strip of land on the roadside. Hence the need to close one lane of LA-1. A salvage diving team that assisted the county in water rescue continued to search for additional remains.

Thibodeaux motioned us a few feet south of the backhoe, where a plastic sheet lay on the ground, a chain, and part of a skeleton lying on the sheet. I hoped no one noticed the impact seeing the remains of a young girl with her life ahead of her, now nothing but bones had on me. I crouched down as if getting closer to the remains was going to make me feel better. It didn’t.

A splash of water interrupted my self-pity party, and I looked around to see a diver coming out of the water. I couldn’t say much. He was holding a skull. The ME onsite took the skull and gently laid it on the sheet. I stood up—that was too close.

The diver, partially out of the water, held up an object. “Found the skull wedged beneath a rock, and this,” he held a belt, “was caught in the broken part of the skull.” The diver took a breath. “Looks like someone chained the body to five big concrete blocks.”

The deputy placed the waterlogged leather belt onto the plastic sheet. Attached to one end was an ornate buckle that appeared made of solid gold. I slipped on gloves and knelt again, this time carefully picking up the buckle decorated with an embossed wolf face.

 “Carl, need to keep this belt in water until the techs can look at it. Got anything we can put It in?”

One of his deputies spoke up. “Got a cooler in the back of my cruiser. I’ll get it.”

While the deputy went for the cooler, I asked the divemaster the odds of finding more remains.

“Not good, Detective. The current’s strong on the tide, even this far inland. The backhoe snagged the arm and collarbone. We found the ribcage and part of the spine on the first dive. It looks like the body got wedged in the submerged roots, then covered with silt. Backhoe stirred everything up. It’s murky under the surface, and my guess is we won’t find any more remains. We’ll continue to look for a while anyway.”

“Thanks. Appreciate it.” I stared at the shipyards across the bayou. Louisa was thrown in the water here, and no one saw. The thought made me sick to my stomach.

After the belt was secured in the cooler with bayou water in it and logged in as evidence, we took it and headed to the station to pick up the ring. We established chain of custody and jurisdictional rights with the sheriff, transferring all evidence to our case. Hank and I returned to New Orleans. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and I needed to speak to the DeLongs after talking to Captain Ferguson.

After logging the ring and the belt into evidence at the crime lab, Hank and I went to see the captain. I think Fergusons might feel like I did. Even though we suspected Louisa was dead, no one wanted to believe it.

I had the ring with me. Ferguson held the plastic evidence bag in his hand, staring at it. “You sure this is her ring?”

I pulled a photo from my wallet. “Lisa DeLong gave me this picture of Louisa from her high school graduation.” I handed it to him. The photo showed Louisa in her cap and gown, proudly displaying her late grandmother’s ring that her parents gave her for graduation. The captain handed the photo and the ring back to me.

“Time to tell them, Boone.”

~~~

I called ahead. When I arrived, I realized Lisa must have heard the emotion in my voice when I told her I had something to discuss with them. Several cars were in the drive and parked along the street in the quiet, upscale neighborhood they lived in along Lake Pontchartrain.

I pushed the doorbell, and Geoffrey DeLong opened the door. His eyes reflected what was in mine. He knew why I had come.

“Eli, come in.” Before we reached the den, he stopped. “Just tell us.”

Lisa and their other two children were in the den. Lisa ran to me, hugging me tightly. “We’ll be okay.”

I had talked to them, texted with them but hadn’t seen the family in nearly a year. Son Duncan had graduated from law school, and daughter Marissa was a senior at Tulane. The entire family stared at me. I had to say the words.

“This morning, I got a call about remains found during a dredging operation on Bayou Lafourche. We had reason to believe the remains were Louisa’s. My partner Hank Guidry and I drove down there.”

“It was her.” Lisa’s voice was solid, steady.

“We don’t have an identification yet, but we recovered a ring.” I reached in my pocket. My hands were shaking, and I took a minute to get a grip on my emotions. I pulled out the evidence pouch. Geoffrey took it from me.

This time Lisa’s voice betrayed her. “Geoff, tell me. Is that Mom’s ring?”

He nodded, and Lisa reached for him. I gave them a moment as Duncan and Marissa joined their parents. True to the strength of this family, they regained composure quickly.

Duncan spoke first, ever the new lawyer. “Eli, what do you know?”

“Not much. We recovered partial remains, but we can check dental records, which the ME will do soon. I’ve had the remains brought from Lafourche Parrish here for our forensics unit to examine. Other than the remains, we only discovered the ring and a man’s belt with a gold buckle and the image of a wolf embossed on it.”

“Do you think it belongs to whoever murdered her?”

“I don’t know, but we are certain someone murdered her.”

“How are you certain?”

“Her remains were attached to a chain and weighted down by several cement blocks.”

Lisa grabbed her son’s hand and looked toward me. “Eli, you’ve brought us closure. We know where she is. If you find her killer, we’d be glad. But know that we are grateful that you brought her home to us.”

 ~~~

Two days passed, and we had confirmation from her dental records that the remains were Louisa. I didn’t know if I should be relieved we found her or furious that her killer was out there somewhere going about his life. I decided to be both.

I sat at my desk, looking through Louisa’s case file as I had countless times. I slipped out the packet of notes tied with twine found among her things. Her roommate was sure she was seeing someone, but we hadn’t found any clues as to who. The notes were signed with the initials WL, but a search for anyone with that name never panned out. I know because I was still trying to find him.

I’d read and reread the notes so often they were worn. Just typical ‘I love you and as soon as I am free’ rhetoric. Ten to one, the guy was married and having his way with a young college student. Bastard needed to be taken down for that alone, but if he killed her—well—I didn’t want to admit what I wanted to do to him.

I was putting the file away when the desk sergeant called to say I had a visitor. I was surprised when I saw Jenna Srathworth entering the squad room.

“Jenna, good to see you. I take it you’ve heard.”

“Yes. I’ve remained close with the family, especially Marissa, but Lisa called me, which is why I’m here. Lisa said there was a gold belt buckle found with her… uh… body that had a wolf head on it.”

“Yes. Do you know something about it?”

“I’m not sure. You know we lived on Magazine, and I’d gone to the nearby drug store. When I came out, I saw her across the street. She met an older man who hugged her, and they walked around the corner. I’d forgotten all about this until Lisa mentioned the gold buckle. I remember he was wearing a belt that glinted in the sun. I asked her later, and she said it was a family friend. I’m sorry, just never thought about this.”

My heartbeat increased. At last, a small clue we hadn’t had before, but a long shot after so long.

“Do you think you could give us a description of this man, maybe help with a sketch?”

“I didn’t see him well, and it’s been a while, but I can try.”

~~~

A week had passed. The dive team found no additional remains, and we had nothing but a possible sketch of a mysterious man and a gold belt buckle. Doubt that we would discover Louisa’s killer fleetingly entered my mind, but I beat it back with a stick. I would find the bastard.

My stomach rumbled, and I decided my partner and I needed food. I grabbed my coat and told Hank to come with me. Time for some home cooking at Mama Leone’s.

It had been eight months since the shooting at the restaurant, and I had no qualms about admitting I felt a bit of deja vu when I enter the place. I dealt with it by never sitting with my back to the door.

Mama Leone spotted us and showed us to a table, brought us a bottle of wine, took our orders, then disappeared into the kitchen. Tom waved to us from the kitchen pass-through, and Uncle Matteo was engrossed in conversation with a guest. The world felt right to me here. This was my neighborhood and my friends.

Hank poured the wine. “This is a great place, and they like you.” He snickered. “No accounting for taste.”

I glowered at Hank, but he was right. For whatever reason, they did like me. We tap-danced around the real issue in front of us until Hank brought it up.

“You figured out what happened when those guys shot up this place. You’ll figure this out.”

“We need a break. We searched the databases for any mention of the gold buckle and checked with jewelry stores, leather shops. Nothing.”

Hank nodded. “Nothing on the sketch either.”

I stared at the photo of the buckle on my phone. Someone must have seen it before. I laid the phone down as Winona, one of the servers, brought our meals. I was about to say the Pomodoro smelled delicious when she pointed to my phone.

“Eli, I’ve seen that before.”

“Where?”

“On a buckle. Guy comes in here now and then.”

“Any idea who he is?”

“No, but Matteo might. I’ll get him.”

Matteo knew from the look on my face that it wasn’t time for niceties. “You looking for the man with the gaudy belt buckle?”

“Yes.” I showed him the buckle and the sketch. Matteo bit his lip.

“I know this man. He must be fifty, but always bringing in a young girl. Gives me the creeps.”

“Know his name?”

“Connor Chauvin. Runs a video production company three blocks from here.”

 ~~~

We picked the bastard up two hours later at his studio. He wore a wolf head solid gold belt buckle. No surprise that his video production company was making pornographic videos.

It took three hours to get a confession, but he knew the belt buckle convicted him. He admitted to luring Louisa to the bayou, strangling her with his belt and dropping her in the water tied to concrete blocks. He seemed upset he lost his belt in the process. Chauvin drove Louisa’s car to Dufrene Pond, where he owned a fish camp that he used for videos, hid the car in the garage, and rode his scooter back to his truck.

Why did he kill her? He said he loved luring young college girls into posing nude and making porn. I’ll never forget his words. “Louisa refused to play, and I knew she’d turn me in. Foolish bitch thought she loved me. Promised her I’d quit making porn. She knew about the cabin, so I told her to meet me, and we’d talk. Couldn’t let her ruin my good thing, so she had to die.”

I asked one last question. Why the wolf head on the buckle? Chauvin scoffed. “My name, Connor, means wolf lover.”

Wolf Lover. WL—the initials on the notes tied with twine. The notes he used to make her believe he loved her.

As the sun rose, I left the station. Time to tell the DeLong family we had justice for Louisa. 

————–

If you enjoyed this Detective Elijah Boone story, please check out this story in the series.

The Neighborhood

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

Lynn Miclea: Becoming Whole

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! 

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

Becoming Whole

Lynn Miclea

A restless unease moved through Emma as she joined her family for dinner. Tomorrow she would turn eighteen, and her birthday always brought a sense of agitation. She knew it should be a happy day, but it was usually filled with increased apprehension.

She always knew she was adopted, and an underlying feeling of loss and rejection filtered through her life, even though her parents were loving and kind. Her family was nice to her, but she had lingering anxiety and a nagging feeling that she simply did not fit in. Her light brown hair and blue eyes did not look like either of her parents or her sister. But more than that, she always wondered why she had been given away, and she longed for a place where she really felt she belonged, and that longing filled her with guilt.

Nervous and dreading her birthday the next day, her stomach ached as she sat at the kitchen table for dinner and stared at her food.

“Are you okay, Emma?” Her mom looked at her. “Are you feeling sick?”

Emma shook her head. “I’m just uncomfortable about tomorrow. I guess I just don’t like birthdays or all the fuss.”

Her mother nodded. “I know, sweetheart. We won’t do anything big, but I have your favorite cake for you — red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.”

“Thank you. I love that cake.” She gave a weak smile and pushed her food around on the plate, and then picked at her food and slowly ate.

Dinner finally finished, she pushed away from the table and ran to her room. She hated her birthday. It was another reminder that her birth mom had given her away, that she was not wanted, and her anxiety grew. Trying to calm down and slow her breathing, she looked around the bedroom. There was not much. A few books, her guitar, and a notebook where she wrote poetry. A few treasured stuffed animals from her childhood sat on her dresser. An emptiness gnawed at her, and she blinked back the tears.

After a restless night of dozing on and off, she crept into the kitchen the next morning for breakfast.

Her mother was making pancakes and she turned and smiled at Emma. “Happy birthday, honey. Want some pancakes? I know that’s your favorite for breakfast, so I wanted to make that for you.”

Emma sniffed the air, loving the smell that filled the kitchen. “Thank you. I do like your pancakes.”

“I know, sweetie. Here, the pancakes are ready.” She placed the plate on the table and Emma inhaled the homey aroma before digging in. Maybe the day wouldn’t be so bad.

As Emma began to push away from the table after finishing her breakfast, her mom sat down across from her. “I have something special to give you. When we adopted you, your birth mother gave the adoption agency a small box of items for you for when you turned eighteen. We promised that we would hold it for you until then. And now that you are eighteen, you can have it. I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s for you from your birth mother.”

Emma’s mouth fell open and she stared at her mom.

“Wait here and I’ll go get it.” Her mom left the room, and Emma stared after her. Her stomach churned. What could be in the box? Would she find the answers to her questions? She tapped her foot as fear flooded her system.

A couple of minutes later, her mom returned carrying a small box, and she placed it on the table. “Here, honey. This is the box. Take your time.” She pushed the light blue cardboard box toward Emma. “And please know that no matter what is in it and what you want to do, we support you and always love you, and you are always part of our family. And if you want to talk about it, I’m here for you. Okay?”

Emma nodded and whispered, “Thank you.” She grabbed the cardboard box and ran up to her room.

Nervous and jittery, Emma sat on the bed and stared at the box. She wiped her damp hands on her jeans and, hands shaking, she slowly untied the old, wrinkled ribbon and lifted the lid. After a moment’s hesitation, her fingers trembling, she peeked in the box and carefully removed the contents. There were a few letters, some pictures, and a small, pink ribbon.

Her heart pounding, she picked up the pictures and gasped, peering intently at the photos. A teenaged girl, holding a baby wrapped in a pink blanket, smiled at the camera. There were a few pictures of the baby, some with a pink ribbon in her hair — the same pink ribbon that was in the box. Emma’s heart thudded in her chest as she studied the pictures again.

On the back of the baby pictures were written her name and a date. She felt her throat close up. These were pictures of her as a baby — she was a few weeks old in two pictures, and one month old in one of the pictures. The young woman, who must be her birth mom, looked just like her. Emma felt a deep soul yearning building inside. She was actually looking at a photo of her biological mother and herself as a baby. Why did her birth mom give her away? Did she still remember her? Did she ever think about her?

Her hands shook as she put the photos down and opened the letter. She began to read, struggling to breathe, as tears fell.

My sweet baby Emma,

I love you so much and I wish I could give you the life you deserve. But I cannot, and you deserve the best life possible.

I am only seventeen and am not able to care for you. I wish things were different, but they are not in my control. I love you so deeply but I am not able to keep you or take care of you. After a month of agonizing over it, I have reached the difficult decision that I need to give you up for adoption. I desperately hope you will have a loving home and will have a better life than anything I can offer. I hope and trust this is the right thing to do.

Emma looked away and then fell forward, sobs wracking her body. She had to keep reading, but it was hard to focus. Her mouth dry, she wiped her tears away and continued reading.

My parents drink too much and we have no money. Your dad was my boyfriend in high school, but we are no longer together. This is such a difficult decision, and I wish I could keep you. It hurts me so bad to give you away, but I really have no choice. Please know that I love you with every fiber of my being and I will always love you.

I hope you will be happy, and I hope one day you can forgive me.

With Love, your mother, Claire

By the time Emma finished reading the letter, she was sobbing and gasping for air.

For a few minutes, Emma could barely breathe. Then she looked through the other letters. In one of the letters, Claire said she played the guitar and wrote poetry — just like her! There was more information about her birth family and contact information if Emma wished to reach out to her. If the information was still valid, Emma would be able to reach her.

Fear gripped her. Would Claire still want to be contacted eighteen years after she wrote the letter? Would she still remember her? Or was she long forgotten? Would her birth mom want to meet her now? Or was she a bad memory of a difficult time? Was she even still alive?

Emma held the letter to her chest. The yearning inside grew too strong, and she knew she desperately needed to call and try to meet her birth mom. Claire would probably be about 35 now. Her heart ached as a rush of fear, anxiety, desperation, and conflicting feelings rushed through her. Should she call?

Clutching the letters and photos, Emma rocked back and forth, sobbing, trying to muster the courage to make the phone call.

After an hour, she could no longer hold back. Hands shaking, she called the number scrawled on one of the letters, hoping Claire was still at the same number.

The call was answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

Emma could barely speak, and her voice was hoarse. “Um, Claire?”

“Yes?”

“Um … I’m not sure how to … This is Emma. I’m your daughter.”

***

One week later, checking her image in the mirror, Emma ran her fingers through her light brown hair and smoothed down the yellow blouse she wore. Wearing her favorite color, she hoped it looked bright and cheery, but her nerves were getting the better of her. Her hands were sweating, and she felt jittery. Why was she so nervous? But she had to see her. She had to meet the woman who gave birth to her.

Claire’s voice had been soft and hesitant on the phone when they had briefly talked, but she had agreed to meet. However, Emma sensed some reluctance. Was she reluctant because she did not really want to meet? Was this a mistake? Or was Claire simply as scared as she was? Whichever it was, Emma could not back out. This was too important, and she felt driven.

Whatever happened, she would deal with it. Even if it ended in disappointment, it was better to know than always wonder. She checked her watch again. It was time to leave.

Twenty minutes later, she pulled into the parking lot at the coffee shop and parked. She sat there unmoving for a few minutes, trying to slow down the racing of her heart. Finally, hands cold and shaking, she got out of the car and walked to the entrance of the coffee shop.

Her legs feeling rubbery, she hesitated. What if Claire didn’t even show up? What if she really didn’t want to see her? Maybe this was all a mistake.

Tires pulling into a parking spot got her attention, and she turned and watched a small white car pull in a few spots away from hers. A woman got out, shut and locked the car door, checked her watch, and looked around. She seemed nervous.

For some reason, this woman held Emma’s attention. The woman was short, slightly built, and had light brown hair about her color. As the woman came closer, something seemed vaguely familiar. The woman approached the front entrance, stopped, and looked at Emma.

Emma saw her own blue eyes, worried, scared, and anxious, reflected in this woman’s face. The woman wore a beautiful yellow blouse, a color that matched her own, and …

Emma gasped and then held her breath.

The woman turned to her and her eyes opened wide. “Emma?”

Emma nodded, at first unable to speak. Then she finally whispered. “Claire?”

The woman nodded and opened her arms. Emma moved forward, and the two embraced, holding on to each other.

When they finally pulled apart, they both had tears running down their faces. Emma looked at Claire, who was so much like herself. “Thank you for meeting me. It is so good to see you. Let’s go in and have lunch and talk.”

Claire dabbed at her eyes with a small tissue. “Yes, yes, let’s go in.”

Emma opened the door and held it for Claire, then followed her in. After being seated in a booth, looking over the menu, and ordering their meals, they relaxed and gazed at each other.

“Thank you for the box you sent when I was adopted.” Emma’s voice was soft. “It was nice to read the letter and see the pictures. But I was afraid to call you.”

Claire’s face softened. “I’m glad you got the box and I’m glad you called. I didn’t know if you would be angry or resent me.” She toyed with her napkin. “Emma, I loved you more than you could know. It was so hard to give you away, but I could not offer you a decent life. I could not take care of you.”

“I know. I understand. Thank you for doing what you felt was best for me. And thank you for that letter. That helped a lot.”

Claire reached out and squeezed Emma’s hand. “I hope you had a good life and are with a good family.”

“Yes, I am. My parents have been very good to me. They are loving and kind. But something has been missing in my life, and I always somehow felt lost. I always longed to find a blood relative. A place where I felt complete and where I truly belonged.”

Claire nodded. “Yes, I can understand that. You’re not mad at me?”

“Oh, no, no, of course not. I just always wondered why you gave me away. And reading that letter and meeting you helps a lot.”

The waitress placed steaming plates of food on the table, refilled their iced tea, and then went to another table.

Claire smiled. “Do you know that I celebrate your birthday every year?”

Emma gasped. “You do?”

“Oh, yes. Each year on your birthday I get a small cake and put a candle in it and sing happy birthday to you. And every day I think of you and wonder how you’re doing. I always wish I could hold you. I never stopped loving you.”

Emma took a bite of her chicken sandwich and looked at her mom. “I look like you.”

Claire smiled. “Yes, you do. And you are so beautiful.”

Emma laughed. “Thank you. You are too.” She grabbed a French fry. “And we’re a lot alike, too. We both play the guitar and write poetry.”

“You do that too?” She sipped her iced tea. “And look — we wore the same color.”

“I know — I love yellow. It’s my favorite color.”

“Mine too!”

Conversation flowed easily as they shared more about themselves, opened up to each other, and gradually felt more comfortable.

As they finished their meal and pushed their plates forward, Emma saw worry in her mother’s face. “What’s wrong? I can see you’re worried about something.”

“It’s nothing. I —”

“Tell me. Please.”

Claire blinked and looked away for a few moments, then looked back at Emma. “You’re the only remaining family I have. My parents are gone, and there’s no one else. I don’t want to lose you again.”

Emma grabbed Claire’s hands. “I’m not going anywhere. You’re also the only blood relative I have. I want you in my life. We need each other.”

***

A week later, Emma went downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. Her adoptive mom was making omelets and turned to her. “Hi, honey. How is it going with your birth mom? Is that going well? Did you want to talk about it? Would you like an omelet?”

“It’s good. We have a lot in common and it feels good deep down to connect with her. It means a lot.” She sat at the kitchen table. “But you’re still important too. You’re my family,” she quickly added. “And yes, I’d love an omelet, thank you.”

“I want you to know that I’m proud of you for having the courage to reach out to your birth mother, and I’m glad that’s going well. And please know that I love and support you. Please don’t forget that you’re an important part of this family too.” She blinked. “You’re my baby, too.”

Emma felt heat rising in her face. “Thank you. I know. And I do feel a little guilty, like I’m betraying you.” She shook her head. “You’re not upset that I contacted her?”

Her mom set a plate with the omelet on the table and then sat down across from Emma. “Not at all. This is a big thing, and I know it’s important to you. And if it’s important to you, then it’s important to me. I don’t want to lose you, but I also don’t want to hold you back from what you need to do. You do what you feel is right. Just know that we love you, you are part of our family, and you are always welcome here. I want what’s best for you.”

“Thank you.” Emma sighed. “Claire has no other family — just me. And I’d like to develop more of a relationship with her.”

“Hey, why don’t I invite her here? I would love to meet her, if that’s okay with you. And she’s welcome here as well.”

Emma looked up at her. “Really? Thank you, Mom. That is really nice. I really appreciate you being okay with all this.”

“I love you, sweetheart. I want you to be happy. I know this is important to you.

Emma blinked tears away as her eyes burned, and she could not speak for a few moments. Finally, she looked up. “Thank you. You will always be my mom, and I love you. Thank you for supporting all this.”

“You’re welcome. She can be part of our family, too.”

Emma wiped away a tear. “It feels like instead of not quite belonging, I now belong to two families. Or maybe our family just got bigger.” She smiled. “And I feel complete now. I finally feel like I am whole and I really belong. Thank you, Mom.”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. How’s the omelet?”

Emma laughed, an overwhelming sense of relief, gratitude, and wholeness flooding her. “The omelet is great. Thank you.” She laughed again. “I think I’m going to be okay now.”

—————————————–

Copyright © 2022 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Please also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
And please visit her Amazon author page at – https://www.amazon.com/Lynn-Miclea/e/B00SIA8AW4

Tanja Cilla: DRINK TO ME WITH THINE EYES

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! 

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

Drink to Me With Thine Eyes

Tanja Cilla

It was our poem… To Celia, by Ben Jonson.

Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;

Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I’ll not look for wine.

He’d recite it as we drank scalding coffee on the steps in front of the Youth Centre. My dream was to open a coffee shop where people would not hesitate to come in, even if they were alone.

He painted the sign for me as a surprise—“To Celia.” I had the name of the shop, even before I had started saving up for it. We were just eighteen years old, and there was no Crowdfunding back then.

Eventually, I did open my shop. I practiced the Pay it Forward idea, on the off-chance that someone would want coffee, but not enough have money for it…

As I was saying…

The thirst that from the soul doth rise

Doth ask a drink divine;

But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,

I would not change for thine.

Oh, how we used to argue about this. He said the word should be sip, because you don’t eat nectar, and said it thusly. I said you can scoop nectar up with a spoon. Each time he said sip, not sup, I put my hands over my ears so that I wouldn’t hear the rest of the poem. Eventually, he relented and began saying sup. 

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,

Not so much honouring thee

As giving it a hope that there

It could not withered be.

He sent me a single rose, actually. And then he said he was going to Australia to make his fortune, and then he’d come back a rich man and marry me. It was a fait accompli — he didn’t even ask for my opinion on the matter. He didn’t even ask if I would go with him. I would have settled for much, much less than the wealthy lifestyle he envisaged. And I was under shock—so I did not ask if he’d like it if I went with him. And I was too embarrassed to ask him later because he might think I was foisting myself upon him.

But thou thereon didst only breathe,

And sent’st it back to me;

Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,

Not of itself, but thee!

Ah. How we had laughed when we ‘did’ the poem in English Literature for Advanced Level extra credits. The teacher’s face was a picture, when we stood up and recited it; in all his years of teaching, he had never had a student who could. And here we were — two of us.

That, too, is just a memory now. One of the many, many memories that I have. I wonder whether he recalls them too…

I grew up — in more ways than one — when I opened my coffee shop. The old school crowd congregated there… and brought their friends. My business grew and grew, and soon I could offer franchises.

He was missing, of course, and there always remained a him-shaped hole in my heart. That is partly why I never wanted to get married… apart from the fact that some men were too obviously wooing me because of my wealth, and not because they hoped we could grow old together.

To the others, he was merely one of those who did not turn up, on and off, because he had emigrated, moved house, or… died? Inexplicably, indeed, I only ever received a few letters from him, so I considered myself a dead part of his past. And it hurt. So, I never asked after him. And it hurt even more. Damned pride.

I made work fill my life. I was constantly coming up with new ideas, new promotions and advertising campaigns, and new offers. I created the concept, now copied by many, of combined coffee shop and diner by day, and cocktail bar and restaurant by night.

Our old classmates often commented about how I had lost my joie de vivre, and a good couple of them told me they were scared that I was turning into a hard, driven businesswoman. I knew what they were getting at. I pretended I didn’t.

I decided to rope in the old clique; minus him (of course) and Andrew, who, alas, drowned when he was doing missionary work in Somalia, and Janet, who was having a very difficult pregnancy, into my nationwide campaign.

Obviously, it involves haiku, which I can churn out by the dozen:

autumn is my life

not quite spring, not quite summer

but never winter //

autumn leaves wafting

without a care in the world

gilded orange rain //

autumn’s bare branches

will be green again come spring

if spared by winter //

These, and dozens more, are appearing in random magazines and newspapers. Presenting four different ones to the Head Waiter will get the client a coffee, a long drink, a slushie, an ice cream, or a cocktail of choice — depending upon the time of day. The ensuing publicity more than makes up for the freebies… and anyway, money doesn’t matter to me anymore.

When I overhauled the menus, I concocted recipes for “Limited Edition” beverages and drinks, all with an autumnal theme. The colours of most of the ingredients are pale yellow to dark brown… but I threw in some red, for effect, occasionally… chili flakes in the persimmon slushie; pink peppercorns in the Ginger Caramel ice-cream; frozen cranberries floating at the top of the Campari spritzer; a speckled swirl of blood orange peel curled inside the hot whiskey toddy glass; strawberries skewered on the straw (actually a celery stalk) of the Frangelico-chinotto bevvy… you get the picture. 

I never entered cocktail competitions; I didn’t need, or want, bragging rights, exposure, recognition, or fame. I wanted him. That is why I am sending “them” to do the interviews; in other words, actually, I bribe my partners to be my spokespersons.

Once I could afford it, I diversified. I marketed my own brand, To Celia, of Bar Syrup, Lemon Bitters, Nasturtium Anisette, and others. These are ingredients in the season’s offerings. They are available for purchase, too, on the premises.

For the same label, in the run-up to the launch, I designed matching bar paraphernalia; carafes, corkscrews, glasses, jugs, mats, openers, shakers, spoons, strainers, and more, again, in Autumnal colours. These were an instant success, though I say so myself, and personalised items are available on order.

Last year I issued shares in the stock market, but only because it’s a fun thing; actually, I had been offered a six-figure sum for the whole kit and caboodle, but I declined. I do not need the money.

Today, I am closing another chapter of my life. I’m glad that last week’s launch went well, and yet… I still yearn for what could have been.

I have only one regret in life. Now, I know that a resisted temptation is a missed opportunity. I was too proud to risk a ‘no’ for an answer. I will read his letters one last time, and then I will chuck them and the photos into the fireplace.

As I sit here, numb, I watch him through the window of the café. I grip my coffee mug so hard my knuckles go white. He is looking at the To Celia sign. The waitress, the daughter of a neighbour, later told me that I hadn’t even heard her ask me what the matter was.

She comes closer, and follows my gaze. She sees him. She understands, immediately, and, not caring that I am The Boss, she bends down and hugs me.

I’m getting married tomorrow.

It’s too late. Or isn’t it?

Please visit Tanja on her blog: https://paperjacketblog.wordpress.com/

WRITE THE STORY January 2022 PROMPT!

Welcome to Write the Story!

January marks the beginning of our fourth year of Write The Story! We have had three years of amazing stories and are thrilled how the membership rose to the challenge each month and the talent they have shown. Thanks to all who took the time to read and comment on the stories. Feedback is important to the authors and much appreciated.

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! January 2022 Prompt

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva 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.

—————–

Anita Wu: A Winter’s Day

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 used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

A Winter’s Day

Anita Wu

Winter traditions happened for reasons more than just mere familiar repetitions, Ky liked to believe, so when his best friend decided that a trip away to the sunny, warm beaches of the south with her new-found boyfriend was a decision she didn’t have to even think about, Ky gave her a forced smile.

What stung him the most was the secrecy of the trip, for he was only privy to this information the day before she was set to fly, and he knew — without confirmation — that the only reason for his knowing was that they required his services. They laughed in the backseat of his car, grinning ear to ear, dressed in flowy skirts and loose shirts despite the dusting of snow on the roads. His best friend hugged him goodbye at the airport. He waved and left.

Ky chuckled as he sat alone in the park this dawn, thinking of the betrayal. Sunrises were his favorite time of the day. Watching the sky changing gradually from navy blue to baby blue and witnessing the kiss of the sun bringing reds and oranges and yellows into life always felt better when shared with someone else. Summers were spent with his father on overnight hikes and camps so that they could sit in silence with no other soul near. Winters were spent with his best friend by the lake, a cup of hot cocoa in their hands as they laughed about the new singer that graced the stage the weekend past.

He had no best friend this time, and he passed on the hot cocoa, wary of a possible bitter aftertaste. The park overlooked the lake, which had frozen over, and the ice was thick enough and safe enough that adventurous souls had ventured far away on either foot or skates since days ago.

Ky spotted one such single soul this morning, gliding on the ice as though she were on a stage, her arms moving in tune with the rest of her body as she gave a performance for the world to see — except no one was watching. He smiled. He would do the same if he knew how to balance himself without the need to hold onto someone. His best friend often guided him to the middle then let go, leaving him to curse at the skies until he mustered up enough courage to fall and scramble his way back to land.

“You’re doing great!” he yelled at the woman, almost sure that she did not actually hear him but hinging on the off-chance that she did. He picked up his backpack and sauntered back towards the city. He had to buy groceries before the stores closed this New Year’s Eve, after all.

As he left the park, however, he spotted a familiar figure huddled on a bench. Her tattered, blue, barely-warm blanket rested on her shoulders as she held her cardboard sign so that it did not blow away in the wind. Her red cup sat a few inches away from her, likely with a stone weighing it down, giving people space should they wish to offer aid from afar. Ky approached and sat next to her. 

“Trying a new spot, Ly?” he chirped, hoping his cheery voice would bring a smile to her face. She glanced at him, her lip still a fine line. 

Her words were just as curt. “Yeah.”

He patted her shoulder in silence, understanding if Ly did not want to talk. 

Ly was a kind soul. Ky saw her constantly at the intersection near his journalism school. She was always joking with the person who seemed on the verge of tears or helping an old woman cross a busy street. She wished people a great day, and she always had a genuine smile on her face. 

He told her hello one day, and she greeted him every time he passed by afterwards. Eventually, they conversed and became fast friends. “My name’s Lyra, but you can call me Ly.”

Ly was brilliant. She may not know why the Pythagorean theorem worked — and neither did Ky — but she knew when people lied, when they hurt, or when they held on for far too long. She could have been on the road to a bright future, but she was blessed with an abuser for a mother and addict for a father. She snuck her brother away one night, and neither regretted that decision.

But her little brother had passed a mere month ago, and she was pried away from his body before her tears had the chance to hit the ground. Although malnourished, he was an otherwise healthy and cheerful child, Ky knew from their brief chance meetings. He also knew Ly made sure he always had something to eat even if she did not. Ly confided to Ky that she believed someone had poisoned her brother, and she had her suspicions. Having nothing in her name, though, made it difficult for people with power to care about what actually happened. She could not even grieve in peace. The cold came, the snow came, and life was generally more difficult in the winter for those without a heated shelter over their heads.

She did not give herself the luxury of breaking down.

But he wished that she did. 

“Do you want to have some breakfast?” he asked, almost certain that she had not eaten yet. She merely shook her head, still staring aimlessly at the red cup and refusing to face him.

Ly had never declined his offerings of food before.

“I’ll get you some food anyway. It’s always better to have backup, you said before, right?” He smiled as he moved around to squat in front of her. “Stay here, and I’ll be back, okay?”

***

The bench was empty when he returned, so he gave the muffin and coffee to the next person he saw huddled on the corner of the street. That man had mittens, he noticed, and Ky thought that he should get a pair for Ly. She most likely did not receive any presents, but no one would object that she needed extra care this year. 

He would get them for her the next time he saw her, he promised himself.

But he didn’t expect that he would have the opportunity so soon. Ky spotted the familiar blue blanket turning a corner of the street when he was about to enter a store, packed with last-minute shoppers much like himself.

He followed, winding through pedestrians, never seeming to catch up to this agile girl. And in the sea of the busy streets, where cars blared angrily against traffic and people shoved against others to move along, he lost her. 

He stood, in the middle of the sidewalk, opting to give his surroundings one more survey as the people grumbled around him for his stillness.

“You bitc—” Ky heard the energetic shout, even if just a bit louder than the background noise of the city. Most people seemed to not hear it — or opted to ignore it — while a handful seemed to have gathered at the source: a narrow alleyway. The people who paused and watched, like an audience to a circus exhibition, murmured amongst themselves, gasping under their breaths, bringing their hands to their faces, and taking out their phones to record. 

It meant that the incident would make its way to the internet, and Ky would hear about it one way or another. His concern at the moment was the blue blanket that he spotted maneuvering its way away from the scene. 

He cursed, refusing to let it out of his sight this time.

***

“Ly, are you okay?” were the first words he panted when he caught up to her, plopped against a tree in the park. Contrary to his heavy breathing, Ly seemed unaffected from running three blocks. 

But she was staring straight ahead again, tears welling in her eyes this time, her lips parted and quivering as puffs of white condensed in the cold air. She fisted her hands to stop them from shaking, but it only caused her entire arm to tremble. Ky noticed that she had gloves on, though they appeared to be disposable ones rather than warm, winter ones. 

He placed his hand on her shoulder and eased her to sit. “Hey, hey, what’s wrong? What happened?”

Those words seemed to break her as she let the tears fall and her entire body rock while she brought her gloved hands to her face. Ky adjusted the blanket around her and hugged her close. He imagined her brother would do the same if he were here. 

“I couldn’t do it,” Ly choked out between sobs.

“Couldn’t do what?”

“I couldn’t do it.”

“That’s fine. It’s okay. It’ll be okay.”

She smelled like the clothes she didn’t have the opportunity to change, and her body was much more frail than the illusion she gave since she always wrapped herself in the tattered blanket. Ky held her close as she cried.

“He took away my brother. I wanted to return the favor,” Ly confessed, “but I couldn’t do it. My hand slipped, then my body stopped.

“Because Sam would have yelled at me when I saw him again. He would have told me he was fine, that he didn’t want to be a burden to me. He…” Ly stopped.

“He just wanted you to live your life. I think he knew you did all this for him. He knew that you could be more.” Ky shifted Ly and adjusted himself to face her. Her eyes were red, her cheeks puffy and her frown a disaster. “I do too. You just have to give yourself a chance and don’t hold yourself back.”

“But I can’t. That man’s going to come after me now after that stunt I pulled.” The fear was settling into her face now. Reason always came after emotion. “He won’t stop until I’m dead.”

“Don’t worry. Let him try, and I’ll set the whole world against him.” Ky smiled. “I am a journalist, after all. I can be persuasive.”

He saw the small upward turn on Ly’s lip. Smiles were contagious, after all. 

“That’s not going to work, Ky.”

“But you know what’s going to work?” He kept his smile. “Hot cocoa by the park. Last time I was there, a performance was happening. Maybe it would still be there now. It’s a winter tradition I do, and there’s space for one more person.”

Ly let a small chuckle escape, and her stomach growled in agreement.

“Perhaps some food too.”

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

Calliope Njo: The Christmas Present

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 used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

The Christmas Present

Calliope Njo

“Come on.” I pulled Natasha after me. “You’re about as stubborn as a male elf who insists it’s time to nap.”

She tried to peel my fingers off her wrist, but I kept hold. I stopped and turned to look at her. “I don’t know why you’re having such an issue with this.”

“Because I don’t want to. Christa, let go.”

“Natasha, the bags have been cleaned and stitched, and milady has gone over our lord’s suit. The team is physically and mentally fit for duty, and the onboard computer diagnostics is complete. We’re a part of the fourth wave. We have nothing to do until the clock strikes midnight.”

She looked down. “Because I don’t know how to ice skate.”

“Is that all?”

She looked up at me with a clenched jaw. “What do you mean is that all? I would be so embarrassed when we get back to work.”

When I let go, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. So, plan B. “There is nobody here. The first and second waves are putting the last-minute touches on the toys. As for the third wave, they’re asleep. Who would laugh?”

She straightened her arms. “I never really learned how. I mean, when I was little, I wanted to, but I never got a chance to. So here I am. The only elf who doesn’t know how to ice skate.”

I cupped her cheek. “You worry too much. Put your skates on and go with it. If you fall, you fall. Besides, the snowflake fairies are about to come out. They will help you.”

“You’re telling tales. There is no such thing.”

“That’s what everybody thinks. Mortals can’t see them. Those of us who reside in Celynville can. They only come out on the shortest days and coldest winters, but the myth says they will come out soon. They only need a little inspiration.”

“They’ll laugh.” She pouted.

“No, they won’t.” I grabbed her hand. I got tired of this conversation, so I pulled her along with me and put her skates on. Then I put mine on and pulled her after me until she figured out how to walk in them.

I kept my pace slow and straightforward. Up and down, back and forth around the ice. Natasha didn’t fall during that time, so I let her go. She screamed and kept going until the snowflake fairies took hold of her.

I got off the ice to let them have it all. They were so magical to watch. Glittering snow always fell while they were out. They glittered a sort of light blue that gave them a magical touch. I couldn’t help but laugh at Natasha’s wide-open mouth and eyes, but she calmed down after a while.

They showed her much better than I ever could. Step by step, the eyes and mouth relaxed as they moved around the ice. That wide-eyed look of fear changed into a smile. It had to be pride that took over.

The sun began to set. “Natasha, it will be time for our last meal of the day. We must go.”

She skated towards me with a smile so broad that it stretched ear to ear. “You were right. They were so… so…. How do you explain it?”

“You can’t.” I sat down to take the skates off and set them by the log. Natasha did the same and followed me back to the main building.

The dining bell sounded, and we kept moving to the dining hall. The long wooden tables were always a treat to see. Covered dishes lined the table with wooden cups on the side filled with hot apple tea, but the traditional eggnog would have to wait until we completed our task. After a roasted chicken and mixed vegetable meal, we went to our room to rest until the clock sounded.

“It shouldn’t be too long. I overheard the first and second waves finished sooner than expected. The other waves had crossed off many names from the list, not because of misbehavior but because of illness that plagues the mortals. Too sad to think of the ones that died too soon.”

Natasha nodded. “What do they do?”

“Who?”

Natasha came over to my bunk and laughed. “You know who.”

I laughed too. “I don’t think anybody knows. They’re magical beings that come out now and then. I don’t remember anyone ever observing them. Like all creatures great and small, they are given space and respect.”

Natasha nodded and went back to the window.

Someone knocked on our door. I opened it. “Noelle, greetings. Is it time already?”

She shook her head. “Our delivery has gone down by fifty-seven percent. Therefore, the bags have been stuffed and readied for delivery sooner than expected. All we need to do is wait for the launch. I came because there seems to be some trouble in the mortal world regarding their tree production.”

“Oh. How can we help?”

“It is frowned upon for any of us to go into their world. There is always a risk of being seen. However, these circumstances have made that rule null and void. There are poor people there that have no way of sharing their joy. So, it was suggested that we execute a plan thought up by our lady.”

“Oh,” Natasha and I said at the same time.

“We cannot take the sleigh with it being so close to launch, and it still needs to be looked over, washed, and waxed. So we are to go there, find a forest of trees, and decorate them instead of delivering. Easier and less expensive.”

We nodded.

Noelle continued. “Four other elves are coming along with us for a total of seven. That should be enough to do what we need to do and leave in time to view the launch.”

“How will we get there? What will we use for decorations?” I asked.

“Our lady will take us there. She already found an area that we could use. As for decorations, keep it simple because we won’t be seeing them again.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Natasha said. “We are ready now.”

We followed Noelle outside and waited for the rest of the crew by the gates. Once everybody was there, we only had to wait for our lady to show.

“Oh good,” our lady said. “Everybody is here. I don’t want to leave anybody behind or get lost, so we’ll keep the route simple and easy to follow. I studied the maps, and it didn’t seem too difficult to get there.”

She led the way, and we followed. We went to a cave and through a long tunnel to the mortal world. Once outside, we focused on the route to a nearby forest.

Get there and get it done. That was our objective. The surrounding flora had bright red berries. Not edible, but they would make beautiful decorations.

We walked by the rejected pile on our way out of camp, and I was able to grab some gingerbread men, thrown out because they didn’t meet specific standards. The trees looked all right between the red berries and the rejected gingerbread men, but something was still missing.

Twinkling came from above. I looked up, and there they came. The snowflake fairies flew around and touched the tree, and the trees sparkled. It was such a magical moment as only a trail of lights was left when they finished.

Noelle passed around a jug of hot chocolate to celebrate. I sat down on a felled tree, and that was when I heard crying. After a glance around, I realized it wasn’t one of us. A few were snoring, and others were laughing, but no one was crying. I stood and walked around to find a mortal baby tucked inside the log we sat on. I pulled it out and took a look.

“Oh my,” Natasha said. “Too small to fend for itself. What are we going to do? We can’t take it with us. Can we?”

“No. We can’t. I have to tell Noelle about this.”

“Christa, you know she would tell you to leave it be.”

“She is our leader, and she must know. I don’t think she would ever say such a thing.”

I was proven wrong. I couldn’t understand how she would even think such a thing. That baby had to be crying because it felt cold, hungry, and unloved. We couldn’t leave it behind.

I jerked back with every word of the last command I heard. “We will not have anything to do with that creature. We have no place for it. My word is final.”

I heard footfalls disappearing and took a look. Noelle left and sat on a log. That gave me a chance to find the baby a place to belong.

I looked up. It would have to be soon before the sun set. “Natasha, help me find something to pull. It’ll help.”

She went one way and I another. I was about to give up when Natasha came back with half a log attached to a vine. I didn’t know where she found it, but it was something, and I wasn’t going to question that.

We placed the baby on it, and I pulled it along after me. I hoped Noelle wouldn’t notice before we left.

“Oh, hush now, little one. You see, I am called Christa. I’m an elf that works in the toy factory.” I looked behind me, and nobody was there. We continued. “You see, I live in Celynville with the rest of the elves that work in the factory. We came here to help all of you rejoice and be happy during this season.” The baby started to calm down. A smile spread across its face.

A male and a female human couple were walking around the forest not that far away. The female smiled and kept chatting about starting a family. The male continued to smile, but I had a feeling he didn’t want to be having that conversation. I couldn’t read minds, but some of his thoughts I heard in my head.

Maybe he could be persuaded otherwise if I presented this baby to them. I saw a lone hare, and it didn’t take much persuasion to convince him to run in front of them and then hop towards the tree stump. With that accomplished, I heard a gasp. They ran towards it.

I ran back, hoping they found the baby and after that, everybody would be happy.

I returned to the campsite and a scowling Noelle. “Finished?”

I gulped. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Let’s go then.”

I followed after her as we returned home. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened. For some reason, the trip back took longer than the trip away as I was worried.

The time arrived for the launch of our lord, Santa Claus, on his sleigh. I wished him a safe journey around the world to deliver the gifts. Once he departed, eggnog and sweet biscuits were served to all the elves to celebrate this time of success.

About to go back to our huts, someone stepped in front of me. Those red shoes looked familiar. “Excuse me,” she said. “Would you be Christa?”

I looked up, and it was our lady, Mrs. Claus. I nodded. My mouth refused to work.

“It was a nice thing you did with that baby, and I hope everything turns out all right. What do you say if we go back to my house and sit down with a cup of hot apple cider.”

“Yes, milady.”

“Oh, don’t be stiff. That’s Noelle. Just call me Mrs. Claus, and we’ll get along fine.”

I followed alongside Mrs. Claus back to her house. I couldn’t help but wonder about what happened after that. Maybe they weren’t meant for each other, and presenting the baby would’ve been a mistake.

I couldn’t worry about that. It wasn’t my place.

Well, another season had gone well. The toys were made, packed, and delivered without a problem. All that needed to be done was the clean-up.

Clean-up duty involved sweeping, mopping, taking out the garbage, cleaning the stalls, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I did the stalls while I thought about that baby. How could someone leave something that precious? Maybe they didn’t have a choice, though.

After finishing our duty, we went to the frozen lake to ice skate. I laughed as Natasha ran ahead of everybody to get on the ice. It was out of pride, not because I wanted to tease her. She was so adorable now that she could skate.

The snowflake fairies came out once again and skated among us. A sweet time it had been. At the end of the day, the next crew needed to get ready for our lord’s return.

Mrs. Claus appeared and waved me towards her. I looked up and smiled. “Greetings.”

“Greetings. I have some news. The couple you found adopted that baby as it seemed it was too precious to pass up.”

I couldn’t help but smile at that news. “That’s wonderful.”

“Yes, it is. I couldn’t leave until I found what they named the baby.”

I bounced because I got excited about learning more.

“The baby was a girl. They named her Christina.”

Yippee. Hip hip hurray. I did somersaults and ran all over at the news. The best thing that ever happened.

“I thought you would be happy with the news.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “We are going to have a cup of hot tea, you and me. We have some planning to do next year.”

I got off my seat and looked out the window. Up high, in the sky, the biggest and brightest star shone. After that, I had a feeling that everything would be all right.

A good thing happened and the greatest gift, love, was offered and accepted.

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

Riham El-Ashry: The Ice Dancers

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 used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

The Ice Dancers

Riham El-Ashry 

The familiar brown eyes stared at him. Without saying a word, he knew what this look meant: dance! Glancing at the skates, the blades shone, reflecting an exhausted beam before sunset. It seemed to him a farewell of someone on the deathbed. Gwendal shifted on the rock he was sitting on. The vast ice lake expanding in front of him sparkled in the sunlight. A sight, if pleasant to anyone, wouldn’t be to him. 

“Do you have a rope?” a man shouted. 

Gwendal gasped as if shaken from a dream and looked to his right to see a man at a distance waving to him. The area was covered with snow and ice and seemed empty. Winter drained the life out of this park; and snow shrouded the trees, the land, and the lake in white wraps. The man appeared to be very far with a desert of white sands between them. A long way! What might he want the rope for? 

For a second, Gwendal fumbled for a rope in his bag. His hand touched the metallic cold edge. The cumulus clouds in the horizon escaped a thin ray of the dying sun that flickered into his eyes. Raising his eyes to the sky, a violet skirt fluttered across. Skates creaked the ice while the graceful dancer demonstrated her sophisticated turns on the glittering surface. Drummers began to strike; the slappy beats echoed into the empty space.

Memories of that performance flashed in front of him; how their arms flapped simultaneously and their figures glided harmoniously in the arena. The bolero was perfect and their dance was extraordinary. Everyone praised their melodic symmetry swaying with the music. But no one could have ever foreseen what fate had for them after the party was over. It was over for all that was good and exciting. 

“Hey! Man! Throw that rope to me. Let’s save that poor fella.” He pointed to a remote dark shadow struggling in the middle of the white, icy lake. 

Fighting for its life, a reddish-brown fawn scuffled against the freezing water; it was half drowned in the water. Its limbs desperately wrestled the cracking ice that seemed to ambush the helpless creature—giving it a false hope of solidarity but then only crashed down, taking it deeper.

The bolero drumbeats softened when the oboe tunes took over. It was time for their master movement—the moment that he dreaded failure. His tense legs shook dubiously. However, Maria’s assuring look soothed his doubts. It was all about her. She could hold things together; she could hold him together. That was not a performance; it was our love dance. 

A tight grab on his arm shut down the music in his head. Abruptly, he turned towards the voice, “It’s dying. It can’t hold on any longer,” the man exclaimed. “Move fast.” 

Weary, Gwendal measured the rope against the required distance to the fawn, but it was much shorter. Impatient, he groped loudly in his bag, scattering many things on the snow. The violet skates thudded harshly on a frozen rock. 

“Oh, you have skates!” his companion said. “But it takes a professional to be able to reach there and grab the animal out.” 

Gwendal didn’t answer. He was a professional. Was. Truth. There was nothing he could offer now. The fawn cried in terror to his mother that stood not far from the two men who apparently were as helpless as she was. 

Maria wanted to have a special celebration of their outstanding success, but he only wanted her. And though the night fled by merrily, the terrible ending blemished the memories. The police report blamed the opposing car for the crash, though he knew who should have been condemned. 

The screams of the fawn deafened his thoughts and urged him to act quickly. From the bottom of his bag, he brought out his skates and worked fast to put them on. For a second, he hesitated and tried to hide a reluctant tear that shined at the corner of his eye. 

“Are you sure?” 

The special ice skate boots for amputated feet took a few minutes to be fastened well enough to his knee. His companion tapped his shoulder and warned, “you shouldn’t. Let’s call for the rescue team or something.”

The moment Gwendal stood on his feet, he felt lighter and masterfully glided on the icy surface and very carefully avoided the thinner spots. He heard the relieved cries of the anguished deer as if anticipating help. Sliding in circles, he listened to the ice cracking under his bladed boots. Joy spread into his veins forcing a smile on his stiff cheeks. 

The fawn’s eyes got full of joy when he pulled it out of the chilly water. He could feel its body quivering. Snuggling it close, the shudder relaxed a bit when a promise was made. His experience enabled his feet to navigate safely, however, suddenly the violet skirt blinded his sight and the longing snatched his lonely heart. What was life without her? 

A few meters ahead waited his buried desire—the thinnest layer of ice. He could aim straight to it and all his agony would be over. The sun was now sending its latest rays, saying farewell to the world. It seemed his best chance to end it forever. All became dark and still. Motionless. It was silent except for a shocked shout that escaped the fawn’s lips as if it predicted what Gwendal was about to do. The shivering grew so intense that he felt it on his chest while carrying the baby animal. 

“Hey, man!! That was a near thing!” the man said, cuddling the baby before releasing it to its mother. 

“Yes, I had to come back!” Gwendal gazed at the deer nuzzling her baby and smirked.

Please visit Riham on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010254645147

D. A. Ratliff: Wizard of the North

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 used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

Author’s Note: A bonus prompt….

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Image by Jayne Bersok Photography. Enhanced by Photoshop.

In addition to the December WTS prompt, another image led me to this story. A friend, Jayne Bersok, who is a photographer, took the image of a ‘wizard’ at a Renaissance Fair a few years ago. I loved the photograph and played with Photoshop to come up with this image.

Wizard of the North

D. A. Ratliff 

Wizard Nicolus took a deep draw of his long pipe, savoring the taste of the smokeweed packed into the bowl. He blew out a smoke ring and watched as it dissipated in the cool air, scattering the small group of Woodland Fairies flitting about the trees. One more puff on this pipe, and he turned to continue down the narrow path next to the flowing stream.

A flash of green light startled him, and a fairy, now human-sized, blocked his path.

“How dare you pollute our air with smoke from that pipe. You know better, Wizard.”

“Ah, the fair and lovely Xeris. How are you?” Nicolus puffed on his pipe and blew the smoke above the fairy.

“You’re incorrigible, Wizard.”

“I’m only me and, well, some have called me that before. How are you, old friend?”

Xeris smiled. “Well, as are my brothers and sisters. We have not seen you for several seasons. And now that it is winter, shouldn’t you be on your way north toward home?”

“I am, but I’m taking the scenic route.”

“Then necessity brought you to us?”

“Yes.”

Xeris tossed her head back, her thick red ringlets flowing about her. “Not often a wizard requests the assistance of the Woodland Fairies or any fairy for that matter. What can we do for you?”

“The humans are lacking spirit. War is all they have known for many years. Now, as the magical world has defeated the invading evil, it’s time that we gave humans hope and joy. I need your help and that of the other fairy tribes to return hope to the humans.”

“A tall order, Nicolus. We’ve remained hidden for a very long time because they disbelieved in our existence. How do you propose we bring hope to the humans?”

“When the time comes, be visible. Let the humans know we remain with them.”

“How will we know when the time comes?”

“You will know. I need you to spread the word to the other tribes while I continue my journey.”

Xeris did not respond, but her eyes sparkled with interest, and Nicolus knew that the fairies would help. There was nothing they liked more than spreading their glittering light.

“We will help, Wizard Nicolus, and we’ll be ready.”

“Thank you.”

With a nod, Xeris morphed into her diminutive self and flew off to join the other fairies. Nicolus started to take another puff on his pipe then stopped. No, best to wait until he was safely out of the fairies’ realm.

Still following the narrow stream, Nicolus walked on through the forest as he had many miles to cover until he reached his destination. He pulled his cloak about him as the sun began to set. It would be cold in the northern land of the gnomes where his wizarding family had lived for centuries in the cold climes. He had relished the frigid air, and as a youth, his greatest fun was to skim across the frozen ponds on silver skates his grandfather gave him. He shivered. He would need a thicker cloak as his blood had thinned in the warmer place he now called home.

It was dusk when he decided to find a place to spend the night. A small group of low bushes that would serve as a wind barrier proved promising. He stepped off the path toward the bushes when he heard a whimper. Quietly, he moved farther into the forest and stood still. He sensed a child hiding behind a tree.

“Hello, little one.” No answer. “Don’t be afraid. Please come out.”

Nicolus waited patiently. A rustling of leaves drew his attention to a clump of bushes. He spoke softly. “My name is Nicolus. Join me. Are you hungry?”

A towheaded boy about twelve years old, carrying a rustic bow and a few arrows, stepped onto the path. “I’m Josiah.”

“Come, let’s find a clearing where I can start a fire. I have meat, bread, and cheese.”

Josiah pointed in the direction. “There’s an old campsite past those trees.”

“Then lead the way, and we’ll camp there tonight.”

He followed the boy through the thick brush and, once past the trees, a clearing nestled beside a rocky rise. A ring of stone, filled with ash, marked a campfire.

“Perfect spot, Josiah. Find wood to start a fire with, please.”

The boy nodded and ran off into the trees while he unrolled the bedroll and opened his knapsack, unpacking the food.

Before Josiah returned, he gathered twigs and dry leaves to start a small fire. He pointed his staff at the wood and chanted, “Ignire,” quietly so as not to let the child yet know of his powers. He added more twigs, and the fire was strong when Josiah returned.

“This is good wood. You chose well.” He smiled at Josiah while adding the wood chunks and branches to the fire. A blazing fire was lighting up the darkening sky within a few minutes.

“Come, sit with me and eat.”

He used his jewel-handled knife to slice the cheese, pulled off a hunk of bread, and handed the food to Josiah along with a piece of dried meat. The child’s glance at his jeweled knife had not gone unnoticed, nor had his thin physique and threadbare clothes. This child needed his help, but he must proceed carefully.

They ate in silence, and he handed the boy another slice of cheese and bread which Josiah ate as quickly as he had the first helping. It was dark when they finished. Nicolus gave the water skein to the boy who drank his fill.

Nicolus lit his pipe, took a draw, and blew smoke rings over the fire. Josiah’s eyes widened as he watched the smoke rings fade.

“How did you do that?”

“Lots of practice.”

“Why is your pipe so long?”

Nicolus took another puff and blew out one ring. Both remained quiet until the ring faded. “My pipe is long, so the embers in the bowl don’t catch my beard on fire.”

“Oh. That would be bad.” Josiah nodded.

“Tell me, Josiah, what are you doing in the forest by yourself?”

The boy gazed at the fire. “My family had it tough since the evil broke out. Our village is in a bad way. My father, Eron, and other men left to search for work, but they have been gone for many months, and my mother fears Igron captured him. My brother and sister are hungry, and my mother tries to keep us fed with what’s left of the grain. I snuck out to hunt for something for them to eat.”

“Your mother does not know you are gone?”

“No.” He dropped his head. “I wasn’t going to be gone long, but I got lost. Tried to follow the stream, but nothing looked right. Then I heard someone on the path, and I got scared and hid.”

“I’m glad I found you. In the morning, I’ll take you home.”

“You know the way?”

“I know the way.” Nicolus stood and motioned to the bedroll. “Sleep here, and at daybreak, we’ll leave.”

Nicolus waited until the child was asleep, then walked into the copse of trees where he whispered on the breeze. “Vocare Xeris.”

The glittering green light appeared in front of him, and wizard and fairy spoke in hushed tones. When Xeris flitted away, he returned to the campfire. He added more wood to the fire to chase away the chill, settled against a tree, and fell asleep.

The sun rose, waking them, and after a bit of bread and cheese, Nicolus packed up the food and bedroll while Josiah made sure the fire was out. The morning songbirds sang as they followed the stream toward the village.

~~~

Even though the sun shone brightly overhead, Josiah’s village felt dark and gloomy. With his charge in tow, Nicolus walked down the center of the road, drawing the attention of gawking villagers. One woman squealed Josiah’s name and ran down the street. Within minutes, a small dark-haired woman holding the hands of two young children appeared, her smile erupting when she saw Josiah.

The boy yelled, “Ma-Ma,” and ran to her. She embraced her son and then spoke to Nicolus.

“I’m Mala. Thank you for bringing my son home. My little ones told me he had gone into the forest to hunt.”

“My pleasure to bring him home to you.”

“Please, you must be hungry. I have bread and cheese. You must join us for a meal.”

“Please, Nicolus, please.” Josiah tugged at his sleeve as he begged the wizard to stay.

Nicolus knelt beside the boy. “I’ll stay for a bit.”

He rose and addressed Mala. “I’m pleased to dine with you, then be on my way.”

Mala led him to a small house. Before Igron attempted to spread evil worldwide, the village had prospered. The industrial revolution created a small forge and a pottery plant. All lost when Igron’s armies of ogres ransacked the land.

Nicolus ate a hard roll, and a piece of cheese washed down with delicious mead and took his leave, choosing to press on. Once clear of the village, he summoned a hawk to deliver a message to the elves to join him in his home village.

He pressed on until fatigue and darkness overtook him, and settled into a bed of pine needles to sleep. The sun peeking through the trees awoke him, and he sensed a familiar presence. He spoke softly.

“Josiah, why are you here?”

Light footballs sounded, and Josiah stood beside him. “My mother woke me. She heard a noise last night and discovered food in the larder. Everyone had food, and I saw green flashes like when we camped.”

“You were spying on me?”

“I was afraid you were leaving me, so I ran after you. I saw you talking to a green light that flickered like a candle. My mother said she had heard stories, and it had to be a fairy.” He paused. “You brought us food. My mother thinks you are a wizard.”

“I am. And I’m on a mission with no time to return you home.”

“I don’t want to go. Mother sent me here to see if you would help find my father.”

Nicolus’s heart was heavy as he could not promise that. He smiled. “I will try. Now we must make haste. We have a ways to go before we can find assistance.”

~~~

They trekked north to the edge of the land of ice. Josiah was cold as his cloak was thin, but he didn’t complain. His awe at the vast snow-covered mountains on the horizon helped to lessen the brunt of the cold as they reached a hill and climbed to the top. Nicolus pounded his staff three times on the ground, and a clear, melodious tone sounded. Warning Josiah to be quiet, they waited.

A dark speck appeared in the sky, and as it grew closer, Josiah began to tug at his sleeve. “Is that a…”

“Yes, that’s a dragon who is coming to take us the rest of the way.”

Majestic in his amber and green scales, the dragon landed his enormous body gracefully near them. A burst of fire erupted from his nostrils. “Wizard Nicolus, it’s good to see you.”

“And you, my old friend. Josiah, this is Pendod, Champion of the Golden Dragons and my friend.”

The dragon nodded and then dipped his head to the ground. Nicolus picked Josiah up and placed him behind the scales on Pendod’s neck, and climbed aboard after him. The dragon rose into the air, large leathery wings flapping.

As they soared across the ice and snow, Josiah’s face was full of wonder, and Nicolus knew his plans were what the world needed.

They landed in the center of the village. Magical creatures raced to them, excited to see Nicolus after so long. Elven Master Dain, his long platinum hair shiny in the sunlight, strode toward Nicolus as the wizard helped Josiah off the dragon’s back.

“Too long, Wizard. It’s good to have you return home.” They embraced warmly, and Dain led them to the town hall, where a large crowd awaited them.

“Nicolus, what are they?” Josiah pointed to the assembled magicals.

The wizard smiled. “Dain and the tall, pointy-eared ones are High Elves. The small ones with pointed ears are Yule Elves, and those brutes in the corner are trolls who are protectors despite their gruff exterior. Those wearing pointed hats are Nordic gnomes, bigger than most and a bit on the mischievous side. The ones who look like me and you are wizards and witches.” Two flickering blue lights flew into the room and morphed into human form. “And may I present King Aedan and Queen Bryla of the Snow Fairies.”

Bryla knelt before Josiah. “Xeris told us about the plight of your village. I’m so glad we could help.” She stood.

“Wizard Nicolus, you now wish to put your plan in motion to instill spirit back into the lives of the humans we are here to protect?”

“I am.”

“Then tell us what you need.”

Hours later, the plans for what Nicolus proposed were in place, and the magicals had their assignments. Nicolus, Dain, Aedan, and Bryla headed outside. Snowflakes swirled about them, falling softly onto the snow-laden ground. At the skating rink in the center of the village square, Josiah watched as a lone elf skated gracefully.

Bryla joined Nicolus. “The human child is fascinated by skating.”

“Yes, as I was growing up in this village.”

The Snow Fairy queen smiled. “I remember those days well.”

“It’s a good thing what you are doing, but it will be a lifetime of commitment.”

“Good thing I have a long lifetime.”

Dain bit his lip. “You said that the boy’s father has disappeared?”

“Yes, along with others in his village.”

“We heard that Igron’s followers are massing an attempt to free him.”

Rage raced through Nicolus. “Igron will never be free again. The Triumvirate, the most powerful witches and wizards among us, cast a spell that cannot be undone. He created havoc, fear, and suffering—he will not be allowed to walk free for eternity.”

“I know, Nicolus, but that will not stop those committed to Igron’s cause. While you continue north, we’ll search for where Igron’s minions are gathering to attack and free the hostages.”

“Thank you. We must stop them.”

Dain departed, and Nicolus joined Josiah at the frozen pond. “Have you ever skated, Josiah?”

“No. We didn’t have anything like those skates. We slid across on our shoes.”

“I need to ask you a question. Dain and the elves have heard rumors that followers of Igron are plotting to free him. We cannot allow that to happen, and the elves are going to see if this is true and if they have hostages.”

“Are they going to look for my father? Can I go?”

“The elves are going to search for your father, but it’s too dangerous for you to go with them. If you wish, you can come with me to the north while they search, or I can have Pendod take you home. Which would you rather do?”

“I want to go with you. I don’t want to go home without my father.”

“Then you can come with me, and I’ll send word to your mother.”

~~~

For the next few weeks, Josiah rarely left Nicolus’s side except when he traveled to the northern compound on his own or the young snow fairy Cosmos visited. The young boys had become great friends, which thrilled Nicolus. If these boys could bridge the gap between the human and magical world, perhaps there was hope for all.

There was much to do. Nicolus had decided to build a compound in the most northern reaches of the world. It was convenient because the Yule Elves, who loved to make things, lived in the snowy domain. With the aid of the dragons, the trolls cleared heavy timbers for use in constructing dwellings, workshops, and stables.

A wonderland emerged from the vast snowy terrain. The Yule Elves’ magical skills turned the timber into a warm and cozy dwelling. When Nicolus brought Josiah and Cosmos from the village to the north, the boys excitedly ran up and down the magnificent wooden staircase. Nicolus built a fire in the enormous stone fireplace. Mesmerized, the boys sat cross-legged in front of the roaring fire, where Nicolus joined them, bringing cheese and fruit to snack on.

“What do you think, boys?”

Josiah grinned. “Wonderful. I’ve never been in a place this pretty and so warm.”

Cosmos agreed. “It’s always drafty in the castle where the Snow Fairies live. I like being warm.”

Josiah stared into the fire for a few seconds before speaking. ”Wizard Nicolus, what are you doing here?”

“I want to bring joy back to children and their parents.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Come, let me show you.”

Josiah and Cosmos followed Nicolus into the snowy night. They crossed the courtyard where a tall red and white striped pole sat in the center with several signs attached that had “South” painted on them.

“Nicolus, why do the signs say south?”

“Because we are at the North Pole, and all directions from here are south. Now come, I have a surprise.”

They entered a long building, and the boys gasped when they realized the building was much larger on the inside. Rows upon rows of workbenches stretched as far as they could see, and Yule Elves at the benches were making dolls, wooden trains, balls, teddy bears, and many other toys.

Cosmos pointed to chutes along one side where finished toys were flying into and vanishing. “Where are those toys going?”

“I’ll show you in a moment.” Nicolus pointed to a bench where an elf was putting the finishing touches on a doll. A flick of his finger and a word uttered under his breath and brown yarn hair, in pigtails, appeared on the doll. Another flick of his finger and the doll floated toward a chute.

The wizard smiled. “The Yule Elves love to build toys. As Cosmos knows, these are magical elves and can work at incredible speeds. Now, for an even bigger surprise, follow me.”

They walked toward the stable, hearing soft baying sounds. Nicolus swept his wand to his right, and the stable doors opened to stalls full of reindeer. Josiah and Cosmos ran toward one stall, climbing on the gates to pet one of the magnificent creatures.

“They’re smaller than the horses at the stable at home.”

“Yes, they are. They are the North Star reindeer. They can fly great distances in an instant but follow the north star home. These beautiful animals will be pulling that sleigh.” He pointed to a red sleigh decorated with gold bells, railings, and green stripes. “I’ve chosen the eve of Christmas to deliver the toys. The reindeer will pull the sleigh and bring joy to the children of the world.”

“Can we come with you?”

“We’ll see. Now off to bed. We have a lot of work to do starting tomorrow.

~~~

Christmas Eve arrived, and Wizard Nicolus, now wearing a plush red cloak and pointed hat, walked into the stables, Josiah and Cosmos in tow. Pendod and the dragons grazed on grain in the square. Inside the stable, the Yule Elves, King Aedan, Queen Bryla of the Snow Fairies, and Elven Master Dain, along with a few gnomes and trolls, had assembled. Now decked in holly branches and leather bridles with gold trim, the reindeer were hooked to the sleigh, laden with large velvet bags of gifts.

Queen Bryla approached Nicolus. “We have heard that the weather is frightful in many locales, and we thought you might wish extra guidance. I requested the Fire Fairies to help guide you.” Three fairies with fiery red hair stepped forward and morphed into tiny forms, their light sparkling red. They flew to the lead reindeer and landed on his nose.

Nicolus beamed. “Thanks to you all for this wonderful night and for helping bring joy to the world again.” He stepped into the sleigh. “Well, boys, are you coming?”

With squeals of delight, the boys jumped into the sleigh. Nicolus guided the team into the square, called Up, Up, Away, and rose into the snowy night.

The reindeer flew with astonishing speed, stopping only seconds to deliver the toys. At one stop, Nicolus landed in a small village.

“Josiah, do you recognize this place?”

Josiah nodded. ”This is my village.”

“Yes, I want you to spend this holiday with your family.”

“But I don’t want to leave you or Cosmos.”

“You will not be leaving us. We’ll see you very soon. Now, go.”

Josiah hugged Nicolus and Cosmos and jumped out of the sleigh. “Promise you will come back for me.”

“I’ll be back in the wink of an eye.”

The sleigh vanished into the night, and Josiah rushed inside. He stopped, his heart pounding—his father was home.

“Father.” He ran to his father’s outstretched arms, tears streaming. “How?”

“I never believed the myths, but an army of elves and fairies stormed the bastion where they held us. They eliminated Igron’s followers and saved us. I returned to an amazing story of my older son’s bravery and a happy and well-fed family.”

Mala hugged him. “Let me get you food, and you can tell us all about your adventure.”

“I’m starved.”

~~~

The next morning, Josiah and his brother played ball outside while their sister played with her doll. Josiah was about to toss the ball when a snort sounded above him. He looked up to see Pendod gliding to a landing beside the house. Dressed in his royal blue robes, Nicolus slid off the dragon.

Josiah yelled for his parents, who rushed outside, and ran to Nicolus. “You came back.”

“As I promised.” He spoke to Eron. “I am glad to see you are safe.”

“I’m sure I have you to thank for my rescue.”

“Thank the good elves and fairies. They are the brave ones. Let’s go inside. I have a proposition.”

Once settled inside, Nicolus puffed on his pipe, blowing smoke rings to the delight of the children. As they watched the smoke wafting through the air, he spoke to Josiah’s parents.

“Mala and Eron, would you consider becoming the caretakers of my compound at the North Pole? I have other responsibilities to keep me occupied during the year, and I need someone I can trust to oversee the elves and the reindeer. You may travel back and forth to visit your family as you choose.”

Josiah grabbed his father’s arm. “Please, father, it’s beautiful there.”

His parents shared glances, and Mala nodded and answered. “We would be honored to serve your quest to bring joy to all.”

“Good, then it’s settled.” He rose. “Pack your things, and we’ll travel to the North Pole tomorrow.”

The family followed Nicolus outside. Mala hugged him. “You saved Eron and have offered us a good life. We’re in your debt.”

“The honor is mine.” Nicolus knelt beside Josiah. “Cosmos will join us as his parents manage the reindeer herd.”

Josiah beamed.

“Perhaps someday you’ll take over and deliver the toys. I almost forgot. I have another present for you.” From under his cloak, he pulled out a pair of silver skates. “I believe you know what to do with these.”

As Nicolus flew away on Pendod, Josiah raced for the pond, silver skates flung over his shoulder. 

***

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

Paula Shablo: Swish

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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Swish

Paula Shablo

The lake had frozen over last month, and Jules was happy to see it—now he could cross instead of taking a two-day trek around it.

Walking was a drag, but it had been over a year since the truck had been usable. No one was making fuel anymore—that industry had died when the world ended. No one knew how to do it, and even if they could, there was no way to power up the refineries. Solar and wind power only went so far.

Dad had laughed at the irony: you need oil to get oil, and oil to use oil.

It didn’t matter. In the summer, Jules could row the boat across, and in the winter, he could skate. But during those blustery days of autumn and the rainy days of spring, the boat was dangerous, and skating wasn’t an option.

That was when Jules would have to pack up his tent and start walking, backpack on his back.

He didn’t like it, not because he minded the walk, but because he didn’t like leaving his parents alone for so long.

The world was all wrong now.

This side of the lake, many houses were now unoccupied, the residents having decided to move on for one reason or another. Jules couldn’t imagine leaving his home in the little village. He’d been born there and fully expected to die there someday.

Possibly today, if things went wrong on his trip to the city.

He strapped a shoulder holster across his chest. He made sure no bullet was in the chamber and double-checked the safety before settling his pistol into its nest and snapping it securely. He put a flannel shirt on over his thermal undergarment, added a down vest, and then donned his parka.

It seemed stupid, on the whole. He’d have to undress to get to the gun if he needed it before he got across the lake. But his father insisted he be armed with something besides the crossbow.

“This bow will be plenty, Dad,” he’d said. But arguing with Nathan Graham about anything was a fool’s errand, and Jules knew there was no time to waste. He packed ammunition in the backpack and adjusted his quiver to fit in the most efficient manner. The crossbow was locked and loaded, but sometimes more than one arrow was needed for the job.

Jules had several reasons for preferring the crossbow, but the main reason was the fact that it was quiet. He didn’t care to draw attention to himself.

Vivian Graham gave him her list—medications were the most important items, of course, but any sort of canned food he could bring back would be more than welcome.

Jules planned to visit the pharmacy first and anything extra would be catch as catch can. They weren’t starving, as many people in this new world were. The village people had always maintained their own gardens and were seasoned hunters. A surplus was always nice, but he had necessities on his mind today.

Missy was diabetic. Insulin was the first item on the list. There were folks needing rescue inhalers for asthma and COPD. Vivian needed her blood pressure medication and Nathan had gout.

The doctor who had taken care of them all for years had died recently, but Vivian had been his nurse, and her list was meticulously drawn from their records. “I just hope you can find everything,” she told Jules as he carefully folded the paper and slipped it into his inside pocket. “I’m very worried about the insulin…”

Jules was worried, too. Insulin didn’t have an indefinite shelf life and needed to be stored cold. He didn’t know what the power situation was over there.

Missy was the love of his life. He didn’t want to fail her.

She joined him at the lake’s edge as he sat on the park bench lacing his skates. “You don’t have to do this,” she told him. “God knows what’s going on over there.” She looked across the lake, industrial buildings dominant on the shoreline within their sight.

“I do have to do this,” Jules replied. He leaned toward her and captured her lips with his own for a lingering kiss. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“Oh, Jules!” Missy threw her arms around him and held him tight. “You come home to me, do you hear?”

“I hear very well.”

Missy pulled the hood of his parka up over his ears and tied the laces. “Can you hear me now?”

“What? What?”

They shared a laugh and a last sweet kiss.

Jules made use of his speed-skating skills and headed for the city. He hurried away, not wanting to hear the sobs of his love as he started his trek.

When one went to the city, it was never a certainty that one would be returning.

The world had gone wrong…

His skates made an ominous sound as he skated away.

Swish.

Swish.

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