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Rylee Black: A Touch of Magic

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 used are free-use images and do not require attribution

A Touch of Magic

Rylee Black

March 2010

The storm seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute the skies were clear, the sun was bright making the spring day unusually warm, and then the wind whipped up throwing up dirt and whipping tents and awnings, making them snap and groan. The sky grew dark, and big heavy raindrops began to pelt the dusty fairgrounds. Nelson Peppernick, who had been cruising the fair for girls, made a mad dash for the closest cover, a deep blue tent with a heavy flap. It wasn’t until he was standing inside dripping and enjoying the warmth that he realized where he was. It was the tent of the soothsayer. The sign read ‘Madam Benovich welcomes you. Please, come in and find out what your future holds. Will she predict for you love and happiness or will it be loneliness and sadness? Madam Benovich sees it all.’

The woman at the table turned to him and he drew in a sharp breath. Her dark skin was deeply lined and craggy, but it was her eyes that startled him, they were pure white. The sign by the flap was wrong, Madam Benovich didn’t see it all, the Madam didn’t see anything. When she spoke though, her voice was soft and melodious. If pressed he would admit it was almost hypnotic.

“Welcome Nelson Peppernick, I’ve been expecting you. Come and sit. I know the desire you hold dearest to your heart and I have a message to give you.”

Nelson shook his head both in denial and to clear it of the inexplicable fog in his brain that made thinking difficult. How could she have known his name? How could she have even known it was him when she obviously couldn’t see, and he hadn’t even said anything for her to recognize his voice.

He took an uneasy step back. “Oh, no thank you ma’am.” Much to his embarrassment, his words came out shaky and cracked. “I’m not interested in any messages. I just came in to get out of the rain. As soon as it lets up some I’ll get out of here.”

The old woman tsked and shook her head. “You didn’t step in here by chance, Nelson Peppernick. There are no coincidences in this world. You and I were preordained to meet this day. Come. Sit. Let us fulfill destiny.”

This time he was unable to resist the pull and he stumbled over to the table and sank down into the chair across from her. Her smile transformed her, and he caught a glimpse of the beauty she must once have been.

They sat there, teenaged boy and old crone, each considering the other in silence. Then, rather than consulting the cards or crystal ball before her as he expected, she lifted something from her lap and slid it toward him. It was a bright red envelope about the size of a small greeting card. It was face down, and he could see that the flap was sealed with a blob of wax with an ornate letter B pressed into it. When he tried to take it, she held firm, her grip surprisingly strong.

“I want you to take this with an open mind and open heart, Nelson Peppernick. The right moment to read it will present itself with obvious clarity. Do not open it before that moment and when you do, believe what it says without reservation. It will be wonderful, Nelson. I can see it now.”

Nelson’s brow furrowed. “See what?”

She scowled. “Promise me.”

“But what do you s …” He let his question slip away at her scowl. “Fine. Yes. I promise.”

She released the envelope then stood and walked to the back of the spacious tent and disappeared behind a partition without another word. Nelson bolted to his feet and stumbled out into what was once again a bright, warm, spring day.

He didn’t have time to wonder at the unexpectedly dry dirt and bright skies because a group of friends called out to him urging him to join them for a trip into town.

He stuffed the red envelope into his pocket and later into the glove box of his Mustang and promptly forgot all about it.

✷✷✷✷✷

March 2020

Nelson Peppernick’s classic Mustang sputtered, lurched, and emitted a heart-stopping bang just before losing all power. With a sigh, he eased his ailing vehicle onto the shoulder and turned the key to the off position. How could this have happened? The car had barely been out of the shop a week. A silver lining of sorts to this grim turn of events was that given that this trip had been embarked upon on a whim, the shenanigans of his temperamental car wouldn’t make him late for anything. But it was a rather disconcerting predicament to find himself in. 

Another positive was that due to his mother’s gentle insistence, he was a card-carrying member of an auto club that provided free roadside assistance. And again thanks to his mother, the number with which to contact said club was pre-programmed into his cell phone. He pulled the phone from the handy dash mount his brother Micah had given him Christmas last only to find he had no signal.

Perhaps it would help if he got out of the car. He looked over his shoulder to check that it was safe and when he saw the road was empty in all directions, he stepped out into the warm spring day. It was only when he stood outside his car that he looked out at his surroundings. So engrossed in his audiobook had he been that he’d failed to notice he’d been driving through trees. How had that happened? He must have driven some distance to be where he was. This was a forest. Having lived all his twenty-eight years in the city, this was the first time he’d seen one in person. It was quite beautiful.

His mind went suddenly to the fair he’d attended almost a decade ago and the wizened old woman in the blue tent.

That late spring day had grown suddenly chilly on the heels of a freak storm that had kicked up in what had previously been a bright sunny day. The tent had been an unexpected find. When the flaps had fallen closed behind him with a weighted thud, the old woman had turned his way, eyes white with cataracts. She’d called him by name and then taken him aback when she’d told him she’d been waiting for him. As unsettling as those declarations had been, her next words had made him truly nervous.

In retrospect, it hadn’t really been a bad kind of unease. It had felt more like barely subdued anticipation, though at that moment he hadn’t realized there was anything to warrant such anticipation. After finally giving into the pull of her voice, he’d sank into the chair across from her. She’d pushed a red envelope across the little table with its starry midnight blue cloth. When he’d reached for it, she’d held it firm and asked him to give his word that he’d open his mind and accept whatever it said without reservation and do what it asked.

He’d never opened the envelope. Where had he put it? He thought back to that day so long ago. The glove box! Could it possibly still be there? With a sudden unexplained urgency, he yanked open the door, knelt in the driver’s seat, and leaned over to open the box. There it sat right on top and still as bright red as the day he’d tossed it in there. Its being on top made no sense. He’d dug through that box hundreds of times over the years. It was a wonder it was even still there.

He slid out of the car and back into the sunshine to study the envelope. When he turned it over, he found the seal was still intact. With hands that trembled just a bit, he broke the wax and lifted the flap and pulled out a yellowed slip of paper.

 Greetings Nelson Peppernick.

 I’m so pleased you found the courage to open this note.

The thing you long for most is true love. Ten years from

today you’ll find your soul mate in the forest on a red bench

 by a lake. Her name is Emmaline Banks and she is pure

sunshine and happiness.

Be patient and wait for the one who is meant

to be yours.

With love and light

Madam B

Nelson looked up at his surroundings in awe. The woman had said he’d know when the time was right to read it and she was right. If he’d not been upset about Lizzette breaking up with him and taken this drive, he doubted he’d ever have been anywhere near the forest. Was it possible this was the right time? The right place? What were the chances of there being a lake through those trees? And more importantly, did people even put benches by a lake? And why would they paint them red? Did he dare to take the chance? Of course he did. He locked the car, put the keys, his useless cell phone along with the note safely tucked back in its envelope into his back pocket, and with trepidation stepped onto the path leading into the trees.

He was alone. All alone. In the woods. As a man born, raised, and with a life firmly entrenched in the city, the woods were a place he could quite honestly say he’d never imagined himself and he possessed a most vivid imagination.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been walking and was hot and sweaty when he caught sight of something red through the trees. His breath caught and his heart sped up until it thudded wildly in his chest. He was almost at a full run when he broke into the little clearing. It was indeed a red bench facing a beautiful lake. But there was no one there. The bench was empty. No woman sat on it and definitely no soul mate. Disappointment surged through him as he sank dejectedly onto the bright red slats. How could he have been such a fool as to believe the words of a crazy blind old woman?

A branch snapped somewhere behind him and his heart leapt painfully in his chest. What was that? Was it a bear? Bears lived in the woods, didn’t they? What had that TV show he watched the other day said to do when one confronted a bear? Another snap, this one much closer, yanked him out of his rambling thoughts. Should he turn to look? Which would be the better death? To let it sneak up and surprise you and end your being you without ever seeing its face? Or would it be better and perhaps more noble a way to leave this plane of existence to meet death head on? A startled gasp of a feminine nature caused him to turn without hesitation.

There on a path coming from the opposite direction he’d come from stood a girl. No, a young woman. And she was beautiful. Her blond hair was a mass of curls that didn’t quite reach her shoulders. Blue eyes that perfectly matched the flowers on her tank top were round with shock and full pink lips were parted. Her face was a mask of shock and fear. Finding a strange man in the woods must be terrifying for a woman alone. Not sure what he could do to calm her fears, he did the only thing he could think of. He slowly reached into his pocket then held up the red envelope.

Her expression changed to one of wonder and her smile could have lighted up the darkest dreariest day. She ran over to sit beside him and he swung around to face her and saw that her look of excited anticipation matched his own. She reached around to pull something from her own pocket. When she lifted her hand, he saw that she held a red envelope of her own complete with the broken seal with a barely visible letter B. Her blue eyes sparkled. She reached out and grabbed both his hands with hers.

“Hello, Nelson Peppernick,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m Emmaline Banks. I’m so very, very happy we’ve found each other at last.”

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Please visit Rylee on her website: https://www.ryleeblackbooks.com/

Enzo Stephens: Battleground

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 used are free-use images and do not require attribution

Battleground

Enzo Stephens

William and Sue Ann seated themselves on the beautiful red bench overlooking scenic Moraine Lake; a 6,000-acre lake formed from centuries of rain runoff from the Allegheny mountain foothills.

The lake was serene, well, at least it was at this time of the day. Late morning, mid-June; light summery breezes tossing Sue Ann’s thin hair annoyingly over her ears. Annoying in that the hair would eventually find its way to stick in her eye or get caught in her teeth or — worst of all, flutter right into the fantabulous cone of swirled soft-serve that currently occupied both her tongue and her attention.

It was absolutely critical to get every single bit of the sweet wonderfulness, lest it go to waste decorating her “Rock of Ages” tee shirt or her “I Love Pink” shorts with the lace frill on the legs. Simply put, the Best. Shorts. Ever. Sue Ann hoped she wouldn’t ever develop curvy hips like her mommo, but like mommo always says, “You’re just a little colt yet; you’ll bloom into a beautiful woman soon enough.” 

Which would mean the end of the Best. Shorts. Ever. It was a depressing thought, so Sue Ann pushed it out of her mind to focus on the little slice of heaven resting comfortably in her dainty, long-fingered hands. She glanced to her immediate right at William. Sloppy, noisy William.

William slurped at his cone wetly; everything he did was noisy and… obtuse. That was the new word Sue Ann learned this morning during their dictionary lesson. Obtuse. Very cool word. But Sue Ann felt that she might have not used it properly when describing William’s current pig-fest. She resolved to investigate this conundrum further when she could settle before her tablet later this evening.

William was Sue Ann’s twin; younger by a precise 200 seconds (according to mommo who was also known among some circles as ‘Time-Kwon Dork’). The thought brought a smile to Sue Ann, just as William exclaimed loudly in anger.

“Damnit!”

“William! That’s a Bad Word!”

“Oh fuck-o with your bad words!”

“William!” Sue Ann’s outrage was palpable.

He looked at Sue Ann sheepishly. “I’m sorry, sis. But every time I get one of these, a chunk always breaks free and plops all over me and then I’m a mess, and you know what mommo will do.”

“It’s okay. Let’s see the damage.” Sue Ann scanned William’s black “Eat Me” tee shirt and his denim shorts and yes, sure enough, there was a grand, slobbery mess of soft-serve drippings down the front of his tee and right over that… bad spot where the zipper of his shorts was.

Mommo was gonna be pissed!

Both were ten years old, but Sue Ann felt like William’s mother sometimes, and this was one of them. She reached over, snaring the bottom of his tee, then raised it up to smear at the dappled mess on his tee shirt, exposing his fish-belly white abdomen. “Hey!” he shouted in half-hearted outrage.

“Whatever. Knock that chunk of chocolate off your shorts.” The chunk of chocolate was the hard-shelled ‘dip’ that William absolutely adored, and of course, he had to have the Large. Not something moderate like Sue Ann’s soft-serve.

He looked at Sue Ann with huge, doe-brown eyes. “Don’t you think it’s weird that mommo would let us have Dairy Queen in the morning?”

“Shut up.” He was going to grow up a fat piggy, and that made Sue Ann chuckle. Besides, Sue Ann didn’t want to think about how mad their mommo seemed to be all the time, or where poppo was. 

William swept the slab of melting chocolate hard-shell onto the concrete upon which the bench rested.

Mommo snapped at them from the Moraine bike trail, even though she wasn’t on a bike. “Let’s go, or I’ll leave you here.” That was a tone that was best to not ignore.

Both jumped, and of course, the remainder of William’s ice cream flew out of his cone and plopped on the concrete slab. But before he could start whining about it, Sue Ann snagged his sticky hand and pulled him toward their mother, who was angrily grinding out a cigarette butt with her sandal.

0^0^0’

The black queen sensed it almost as soon as it happened. Sugar was in the air and on the ground, and it wasn’t far off. She tapped and flicked, commanding her scouts to set forth, and she gave them approximations as to the location. 

Chitters and taps clicked throughout the black colony, and she knew that a cadre of capable scouts was assembling at the primary point of egress to the colony, and she was pleased. The sugar would feed her young upon hatching and feed them well, and she sensed it was a significant amount of sugar (though she really didn’t identify it as ‘sugar’ per se. To her, it was… nirvana).

“Get it. Get it now!” she commanded, and she felt her quick, powerful scouts gather, then surge forth into the open.

But the black queen was not alone in her sensory ecstasy; the red queen also ‘knew’ almost as soon as the goods hit the ground, that nirvana was at hand. She also tapped and flicked and commanded her scouts to gather and go forth to bring nirvana back to the colony. A red team was ready and waiting for her command to launch, and when she felt there was sufficient number, she commanded them to go forth.

Red scouts poured in a single-threaded stream from the colony out of the main egress point, their focus, the red queen’s coordinates.

Black scouts surged forth from one side of the concrete slab upon which the bench that overlooked the scenic Lake Moraine perched; single-file, well-spaced; tapping, clicking, pushing forward.

Moments later, a single-file emerged from the red colony on the other side of the bench, pushing steadfastly toward the plethora of sugar that littered the concrete slab.

Black scout met red scout.

The blacks were easily three times the size of the reds, and so, individually, there was no contest. The black scout shredded the first of the red scouts in milliseconds. But immediately behind the first of the red scouts was a single-threaded stream of red scouts, all driving toward the sugar-nirvana.

The first black scout tapped a warning of alarm to the black queen. “Reds!”

She tapped back; “Destroy. Establish a beachhead.”

The stream of reds was non-stop, no matter how many the black scouts were wiping out. The carnage of reds was astounding, yet they continued to pour forth. But the numbers were beginning to tell, despite the destruction.

Red scouts tapped back to the red queen. “Blacks!”

Her response? “Engage! Reinforcements on the way.”

And so they engaged. And were promptly destroyed. The blacks were supremely powerful; kings of their domain.

Individually.

And the stream of reds continued, undaunted, engaging in immediate combat with the massive, powerful blacks, who were slaying reds left and right. But the black scouts were not daft; they knew what was what, and they tapped out an alarm to their queen. “Send warriors!” The stream of reds was relentless.

“On their way now,” she responded, confident in the outrageous power and capability in the mandibles of her warriors, and they gathered at the main egress point, chittering furiously. With a single thunderous tap of her antennae to the ground, she released them, and they surged forth in an angry black, destructive wave.

The warriors met the beleaguered black scouts, then surged past them, decimating the stream of reds, tracking the reds back to the main egress to their hive. Hundreds of reds lay in scattered twitching tatters as the black warriors gathered at the egress point… and waited. 

The black scouts found the nirvana and began plucking pieces of melting chocolate in their powerful mandibles; reversing their original path back to the colony to deliver the goods. Nirvana was on its way; the sweetest, heavenly elixir that enabled the queen to ramp her egg-production into overdrive.

The only trace of the reds were the silently twitching corpses that were not yet aware that their miserable little red lives had been extinguished by the superior species.

The black warriors – strutting and proud, cavorted in front of the main egress to the red colony. They were confident that they would utterly wipe out their opponents. The reds would end up being food for their spawn. One of them tapped to the black queen, “We’re at the door to the reds. Do you want us to take them?”

The black queen held her antennae from the ground, avoiding a response. Should she order her warriors to take the reds? Doubt plagued her and she hesitated in issuing her next command. She remembered how her scouts were being overwhelmed by the reds, and that knowledge gave her pause.

They just didn’t seem to care how badly they were being destroyed. They just kept coming. Maybe that was it from them? But that did not seem likely.

What if she underestimated the numbers of reds? Her cadre of supreme warriors would be overrun, leaving her colony ripe for a red-host takeover; the death and destruction of her colony and her babies, and that would never do.

“Pull back and guard the scouts and workers I am sending to collect the Prize.” There was a bit of anxiety there, but she resigned herself to that being the best move at this point in the proceedings.

0^0^0’

The red colony was in an uproar, the red queen pacing her chamber angrily. But not one red ventured beyond the entrance to the main egress, where hundreds of red warriors were clustered.

Her scouts had been slaughtered by the blacks. She knew they were there; knew the approximate location of their colony but had been reticent to engage because of their obvious physical superiority, and yet, she knew in her heart that with her overwhelming numbers, she just might have a chance.

And she wanted that nirvana as badly as the black queen.

The red queen began tapping out commands.

“Set princesses at each egress point. Guard each egress with a contingent of warriors. Be ready to make for new territory in the event of a colony takeover.

“Amass warriors and workers at north and south egress points. Send a contingent of warriors to the forward egress point and wait for my command.”

She had a secret weapon. The sap from the maple tree at the very end of her colony’s reach. The blacks hadn’t discovered it yet, though it was just a matter of time before they did, so this battle was going to happen, one way or the other.

The red queen decided the battle would happen on her terms, and it would happen now. “Send the forward warriors to the Prize and engage the black warriors.

The queen’s Word is Law, so the red warriors erupted from the forward egress point in a seething, purposeful wave, driving inexorably toward the harvesting blacks. In moments blacks and reds engaged in combat, and the battle was savage; blacks shredding red warriors left and right.

Red queen felt the dying chitters of her warriors, but what was happening was a necessary sacrifice. She waited, waited, waited, then whacked her antennae together, commanding north and south contingents to engage.

It was a classic pincer move, and the blacks never saw the pincers close until a red wave of death exploded into the black workers behind the immediate forward battle. Reds swarmed over the black warriors and ripped them to bits, then turned their attention to the scurrying black workers, wiping them out in a brutal onslaught.

Tides had turned. Reds were at the door to the black colony, where they waited for their queen’s command.

The black colony was wiped out in under an hour; the queen the last to be engulfed by swarming red warriors.

By sunset, it was over. Black eggs had been carted off to the red colony as a food source, and they too were a worthy prize. But the real prize; William’s chocolate-covered ice cream, was now the property of the red colony. Let the celebration commence!

0^0^0’

The next morning was another beautiful, summery morning with light breezes that carried the scent of Lake Moraine over the beautiful red bench perched about 20 yards up from the bank of the lake. A concrete boat launch angled into the lake just off to the right of the bench, and a couple guys were setting up paddleboards with considerable commotion.

The weather promised to be a scorcher, so hopefully the twins would be able to go swimming later in the day.

Sue Ann slowly, lovingly peeled the wrapper from her NutriGrain bar (blueberry), which was her favorite. No way she’d be slopping soft-serve down her favorite “I Love Pink” shorts.

William was burrowing into another Large, dipped soft-serve, which was already melting and dripping from the pointed bottom of the cone. “Dude?”

He looked up at her, his mouth encircled with melted ice cream. “What?”

“It’s dripping.”

“Shit.”

“Bad Words, dick-weed!”

“Leave me alone. I’m not losing this one today.” And he dove into the thing with gusto.

The concrete pad upon which the bench rested looked as though it had been swept clean; there was no residue of yesterday’s accident whatsoever. Sue Ann wondered if there was someone who was paid to come along and hose off stuff like this.

The twins enjoyed their morning, chowing down, the serene lake holding their attention captive, while their mother smoked her smokes on the trail behind them, snarling into her phone as a large black ant tumbled from the top of the back of the bench to land on the concrete pad behind the twins. It righted itself and scurried off into the dirt.

The stench of stale cigarettes wafted over the two pre-teens clad in completely inappropriate tee shirts, and they felt their mother’s hands on their shoulders. “Time to go, guys.”

The two jumped off the bench; William dropped a significant chunk of hard-shell. He tried to snag it with his reaching, questing tongue, but it fell nonetheless, flopping to the concrete. William gazed at it longingly; thought about applying the 5-second rule, but mommo called, and when mommo called, you moved, and so William moved and pushed the lost chocolate from his mind.

As the trio stepped back toward the trail, the woman’s tennis shoe squished the lone black ant that tumbled from the bench earlier. Its dying chitters went unheard.

As soon as the chocolate hit the concrete, a regal pair of antennae twitched in anticipation and excitement, and her entire colony responded.

The brown queen prepared her forces to claim the Prize.

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Lynn Miclea: Sounds of Love

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 used are free-use images and do not require attribution

Sounds of Love

by Lynn Miclea

Melissa glanced across the room at Kyle. Something about him made her insides flutter. She wasn’t sure if it was his warm, boy-next-door looks, or the way the corners of his mouth curled up in a shy manner when he caught her watching him. Sweet, quiet, and soft-spoken, there was something about him that drew her to him.

She bit her lip and smiled to herself as she sat in the adult-education medical terminology class and watched him. She quickly focused on the instructor again, realizing she was missing his words.

The instructor paused and looked out over the class, his gaze falling on each of the adult students, and then he continued. “So now that we have covered all the prefixes, root words, and suffixes,” the instructor said, “next week we will practice putting them together and deciphering what the full words mean. This is where it all comes together and starts to really make sense.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Okay, everyone, that’s it for today. I’ll see you all next week. It will be fun, I promise.” He nodded and smiled as the students gathered their belongings and prepared to leave.

Melissa closed her notebook and glanced at Kyle. He turned to her, flashed a quick smile, and then hurried out of the room.

Her feelings crashed. She had hoped to talk to him. She always arrived at class early, hoping to catch him before the class started, but he seemed to arrive late each day and sit in the closest available seat to the door, which was never next to her.

What was his story? Why was he there? Why did he run out so quickly each time? She sighed, gathered her purse and notebook, and left the room, heading down the hallway and out toward her car. She shook her head. Maybe he wasn’t interested in her, or maybe he was just extremely shy. Hopefully one of these days she would get to talk to him.

***

After lunch on Saturday, she walked the few blocks to the park and walked around the lake. Her favorite spot was the red bench at one end of the lake, set back in the trees, and she hoped it was not occupied. As she rounded the corner she looked … there it was, and it was free. She sat on the bench, let out a long breath, and relaxed.

As she thought about the class and Kyle, a cute, squirmy, brown puppy approached her, wagging its tail. “Oh you are so cute,” she cooed, reaching forward to pet the wriggly dog. The puppy wagged its tail even harder and licked her, making her giggle.

Her gaze followed the leash up to its owner — Kyle! Her eyes opened wide and she quickly smiled. “Hi,” she said, hoping he would sit for a while.

Kyle gave a shy smile back and waved. “Hi,” he said, his voice sounding awkward.

Melissa felt giddy and nervous. “It’s nice to see you outside of class. Do you live around here?”

He looked confused and then nodded. “Yes,” he said softly, swallowing the word as he said it.

Her brow furrowed. “Are you okay?” She patted the red bench. “Please sit for a while.”

Kyle’s face flushed. “I’m deaf,” he muttered, touching his ear and then his mouth, the sign for deaf, as he slowly sat on the bench. “I don’t always understand what you say.”

Understanding and compassion rushed through her. “Oh!” She immediately brought her hands up and started signing to Kyle, as her hands spoke her words. “Do you use sign language?”

Kyle’s face instantly lit up and he quickly signed back. “Yes, you know how to sign?”

Melissa smiled and her face became animated as she signed back, speaking with her hands. “My grandmother is deaf, and our family learned to sign so we could talk to her.” Kyle nodded, and she continued. “I am also taking sign language classes and hope to become an interpreter.”

Kyle’s face broke out into a huge grin as his open hands pushed forward, signing, “Wonderful!”

A surge of warmth and deep sense of connection flooded through her. Tilting her head, she continued the conversation using sign language. “How did you lose your hearing?”

The puppy settled down on the grass at their feet as Kyle sighed and signed back. “I was ten years old when it started. I had a virus and then developed a middle ear infection, otitis media.” He slowed down as he finger-spelled the medical term. “It was painful, and I went to a few doctors.” He shook his head and then continued. “They treated it, but it kept coming back, and it caused permanent damage and hearing loss.”

“Can you hear at all?”

He shrugged and signed. “Very little. The hearing loss was gradual, and now I have lost most of my hearing.”

“That must have been hard, especially as a child.” Feeling moved, she circled her closed fist over her chest as she signed, “I’m sorry.”

He smiled. “Yes, it was hard. I was still the same person, and I needed support. But other kids made fun of me, and I felt ostracized and misunderstood. So I withdrew and became isolated.” His face grew sad and wistful. “I just wanted to fit in. I wanted friends, but I lost all my support.” He shook his head. “It was too hard to participate in group activities. I was either teased, or ignored and left out. So I became a loner.” His gaze searched hers, his eyes pleading. “I just wanted a friend.”

Her heart ached for him as she imagined that sense of isolation and loneliness. “I’m so sorry. Was your family supportive?”

He nodded. “Yes. At first I got a hearing aid, but it was uncomfortable. Background noises were amplified as well as voices, and it was difficult to make sense out of what I was hearing, so I stopped wearing them.” He glanced away and then back. “Then my family and I took classes and learned sign language. That helped a lot.”

“Did you have any friends who support you?”

“I had one friend who learned a little sign language and wrote notes to me.” His face warmed up. “But then he moved away. It seemed that no one else saw me as an equal, so I have been isolated since then.”

Melissa reached out and squeezed his hand, compassion and caring reflected in her eyes.

His gaze fell on her face, a look of longing showing in his expression. “I saw you in class, and you seemed so nice. You are very beautiful.” He glanced away and then back at her. “But I was afraid you wouldn’t like me if you knew. And I didn’t want to be disappointed again.”

Melissa felt desire run through her as she gazed at his honest, open, and attractive face. She rubbed his arm, then pulled her hand back and signed. “You are such a sweet and kind person. I see you as a full person, no different or less than anyone else. And very handsome.” She smiled, then continued. “I’m so sorry you went through that. But you are not alone. I do understand. And I would love to be your friend.” Maybe even more than a friend, she thought.

Tears filled his eyes and he looked away for a few moments. Then he looked back at her, a shy longing in his eyes. “Thank you,” he signed.

She looked at him questioningly as she signed. “Why are you taking medical terminology?”

He signed back immediately. “I was hoping to find work in the medical field, typing up reports or keeping records.” He shrugged. “And if that doesn’t work, at least I met you.”

Feeling her face grow hot, she giggled and pointed to the puppy. “How do you talk to your dog?”

He laughed. “I sign to my dog. My dog is deaf, too.”

“Really?”

He nodded. “Yes, my dog learned signed commands.” Kyle showed her the commands he used for sit, stay, lie down, and come.

She laughed. “Wonderful,” she signed.

They signed to each other easily for a while, and Melissa felt the connection between them grow stronger. As they talked, she grew more attracted to him and longed for something deeper. Then Kyle stopped and his gaze fell to her lips. He slowly moved toward her.

She smiled and moved forward to meet him. His soft lips pressed against hers, and her lips parted, kissing him back, as a tingle rushed through her.

After a few minutes, they pulled apart and gazed into each other’s eyes.

He smiled and signed, “Thank you.”

“That was nice,” she signed. A flow of desire filled her, and she shifted closer to him and leaned against him, feeling the warmth of his body. Resting her head on his shoulder, she smelled his sweet, masculine scent, and sighed.

After a few minutes, she sat up and looked at him. His face had softened and seemed warmer and more open.

They signed for a while longer, their hands and faces animated and expressive, and a feeling of intimacy continued to grow as they talked.

He stopped, looked at her tentatively, and then moved in for another kiss. Melissa responded passionately, deepening the kiss, her fingers entwining in his hair.

Pulling back, Melissa gazed into his eyes, seeing a kindred soul return her gaze. Feeling a wave of heat, she knew she had found a true friend and possibly much more, and she could feel that he felt the same.

As the puppy moved and started pulling on the leash, Melissa and Kyle stood up and looked at each other. Melissa’s heart felt full. It seemed that by signing to each other, their hands could more easily speak and express the words from their heart, as though they connected on a deeper level than merely spoken words could possibly touch.

She reached over and took his hand, and he quickly squeezed back, as they walked down the path, his warm hand holding hers. A deep affection for him filled her and she felt herself flush. Their hands, words, and expressions spoke volumes that their hearts could hear much easier than ears could.

True sounds of love.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2020 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-sV

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

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

Calliope Njo: Bench to Judgment

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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Bench to Judgment

Calliope Njo

Couldn’t believe spring got here, because winter hung on from November until now. Like it did every year. May got here, and the temps shot to the mid-seventies instead of the thirties and forties we’ve been having.

It seemed everybody wanted to revel in the weather also, because all the benches were occupied. The city blocked the red one, but other than that nothing was open. I didn’t need to sit and enjoy it, anyway.

I had to get back, seeing as how it was Sunday, and Sunday meant chores to finish before the work week started. I didn’t want to starve, so a quick trip to the store was necessary. Going hungry would be bad. 

I got back to my car and pulled out of the parking lot. Not too much traffic to deal with, which was a wonderful thing. It made it easier to get to the store.

With groceries in my car, my laundry needed to get done. That and I needed to vacuum. An ongoing picture in my head included the vacuum cleaner and it yelling at me while it did its duty always came to mind. I could’ve gotten the robovacuum cleaner, but that meant no exercise.

Chores done, relaxing time came at last. I pulled a pizza out of the freezer and heated it up. Movie on TV and my night was set. Nothing to complain about the weekend. It was good.

Monday came, and I needed to get up at five o’clock in the AM to be sure to move the body. Then get ready to get to work. Eight o’clock, perfect, I signed in.

Kids everywhere, some screaming and some crying. Mine came up to me and smiled. “Hi, Ms. Biddy,” they said. I preferred Bidelia but Biddy was easier for three-year-olds to say.

The day went along as planned. Sometimes my life worked. These were the times it did.

I always dreaded the days where one thing would go wrong and would escalate into a colossal mess at the end. Those times didn’t happen often, but they did.

It started with me getting up from the floor of my bedroom. With no idea how that came to be, I got ready for work.

As if the start of my morning wasn’t enough, I got to work ten minutes late because of an accident that happened ahead of me. Once there, one of my kids bit me, and I had to do overtime because that same kid hadn’t been picked up yet and it was closing time. It should’ve stopped there, but it ended with me listening to a message from Mom because Dad died of a heart attack. I couldn’t find the words to describe that day.

After a phone call to my boss, I breathed. She let me take three weeks off for grieving. I got to Mom’s house to help with arranging the funeral.

About a dozen phone calls later, everything from the funeral itself to anything to do with finances were taken care of. Things didn’t get emotional until I looked for him to ask about the car.

Once it started, the crying didn’t seem to stop. Such a minor thing caused that kind of reaction. I needed some space. It sounded horrible, but a break would be great.

I didn’t want to see my reflection, but I did. Red and puffy eyes with a nose so stuffed I couldn’t breathe. The shower didn’t wash anything away except dirt.

Mom approached me from the kitchen with a smile. “Bidelia, dear, I need time. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I need to gather myself together.” She grasped my hands and smiled. Tears welled up and flowed down her cheeks.

“I understand. I thought about going to the lake myself. Maybe we just need to be somewhere else other than here.”

She nodded and kissed my cheek. “You and your father always did.”

“I will be back.” I got to the door. “Love you.” With that, I left for my destination.

The roads didn’t have any traffic, which was weird. It was a regular day, no holiday. People packed the lake any chance they got. Maybe they found something else to do.

After parking the car, I continued towards the benches without caring if anyone was there and sat on that red bench. People appreciated nature. The birds, bugs, and squirrels seemed to get their attention. That is everyone but me. It never fascinated me, so I stayed away from places like this. At that moment though, I welcomed the change in scenery.

The red one looked over the space between two trees with a cliff a couple steps beyond that. A bit farther and ducks swam in the water.

I closed my eyes and heard the birds. A whoosh of wind blew by me. I opened my eyes and a tall woman stood in front of me.

“It is not your time,” she said.

I looked up and she was dressed in a black leather coat, black pants, black wide-brimmed hat, with black hair that cascaded down her back. The white shirt looked odd with all of that black.

I stood from the bench. “Who are you and what are you talking about?”

“I am Constantina.” She smiled. Her voice was deep for being a woman. Almost whispery. It gave me goosebumps. “Your time has not come. Unless you wish to leave this plane of existence now.”

I couldn’t see her face. Somehow, shade kept me from seeing it. “I’m Bidelia. And plane of existence? I sat here because of the view. That’s all. There’s no sign saying nobody can sit here.”

“Perhaps you were not informed. It does not matter. There was once a man who sat there. He was warned the same as you. ‘I don’t care. My wife and my daughter would be better off without me. I can’t forget about something I did a long time ago.’ Those were his words before he had been given his last warning.”

There was a moment she sounded like Dad. I must’ve needed sugar or food or something because I was hallucinating. I glanced at the trees for something else to look at while thoughts came together. I looked where she stood, and with another gust of wind she disappeared.

Not knowing what else to do, I went back to Mom’s. A note on the table said she would be back in a while. That meant waiting until she got back before talking to her about it.

I crashed on the couch and stared at the blank TV. I couldn’t wait anymore and went around the house to look for something, anything at that point. Maybe we missed a paper or an odd coin somewhere.

A thorough search of the home-office turned up naught. That was until the bookcase caught my attention. Dad didn’t read. OK, he did the odd magazine article, but as far as books he didn’t. It never did until now.

“Of Mice and Men? Crime and Punishment?” What the….

All one hundred eighty-seven pages of Of Mice and Men glued together except the back of the book. A yellowed envelope fell out when I opened it.

All seven hundred pages of Crime and Punishment was the same way. Well, a pull-string pouch existed inside a square hole with a key in its depths. It looked old, and in a design I never saw. Sort of like a skeleton key, I guessed.

I put the pouch aside while I read the note. It only said that inside all will be revealed. What did he mean by that? “Dad!”

Mom said she would be back in a while. Lucky for me, she got a cellphone.

“Mom? Are you OK?”

“Oh yes, dear. I decided to stay for a while at your aunt’s. Uhm, if you need me, just call me.”

“Are you sure you’re OK?”

“Now don’t judge me. I’m not a strong woman. Leave me alone.” She hung up.

That was a shock. Give her a bit to calm down before I go after her. Maybe go after her was a little too severe. Maybe try again would be better. Back to this mystery.

In the movies, they often revealed a secret passage when a book was pulled. Starting from the top, that’s what I did. Until I got to A Tale of Two Cities on the bottom left and the bookcase opened to reveal an exit. I put the key in the hole in the middle, and it turned. On its own. I gulped and stopped to think for a moment as the door creaked open.

With every step, lanterns lit on the wall. The house didn’t look big from the outside, the typical ranch-style single-family home. The passageways made it huge. I had no idea how long it was before it led me to a room.

Lanterns puffed on one at a time on the walls. The room was round with a red carpet in the middle. What kind of man was he? Yeah, he was my old man. Football weekends, worked nine to five, drove a Toyota, grew up in the Midwest, loved beef and everything sweet. He never showed me any of this.

A pile of leather-bound papers piled on a desk. Ten of them. “Dad, what’s going on here?” I kept turning around, in awe of… well… everything.

Did I want to sit down and read about his thoughts and emotions? That stuff was personal and without him here it would be intruding. There were questions, and those books would help to answer them. Mom hinted that she might be awhile.

I pulled out the chair and picked up the one on top. The pages were written in a hand I had never seen before. His handwriting always looked like a doctor’s with squiggles and lines forming unidentifiable words. These were neat and well formed.

I got through the first one. A secret society meant to protect the innocent. Huh? Too confusing to even comprehend. About as far as I read was the beginning of a love story between him and another woman. Not Mom, but a woman married to a wealthy industrialist.

These things got me wondering. My hand shook as I reached for the second journal. It didn’t feel cold, so why would it? I snatched it up and read that one. All about training and procedure. A more technical side to the tale.

She wanted to leave him and had begun the proceedings. That was as far as I got. Yeah, I thought I finished before but Mom came home. The slammed door shook the house.

It took a bit for me to get out from there. About to close the bookcase, Mom called me.

“Bidelia, I have been calling you and calling you. Have you gone deaf?”

“Mom, everything will be OK. Just relax.”

“You know I don’t like to be kept waiting and where were you and why did you destroy the house.”

With no other way to explain, I held her hand and took her through the maze. I let go of her hand and waited for her to take it all in. I half expected her to look around and poke at things.

Instead, she pointed her eyes at me. “Well? You destroyed my house too.”

“Mom, I didn’t do this. I’m guessing this was Dad’s secret office.”

“He didn’t have any mysteries. He was my guy and my companion. I knew everything about him.”

After all that yelling, a soothing tone would’ve made her listen. “Maybe all he wanted you to know.” We stood there and beamed at each other. “Take a look.” I swept my hands around the room. “See the journals over there on the desk.” I pointed to the stack. “They might have—”

“How dare you suggest my husband would have secrets from me? From me. His own wife. He was my man, and he always told me whatever I needed to know. Even things I didn’t have to. It’s what a married couple does.” She slapped me.

It stung, but not as much as her speech. “I’m only suggesting that you take the time to read his journals. It might hold the answers.”

“To what? To what, huh? What are you keeping from me? Huh? I can’t believe you. Secrets from your own mother.”

“I didn’t do this. I wouldn’t know how.”

“Yes, you did.”

“How? How could I accomplish all of this?” So much for a quiet approach. “I live all the way across town. You were always home. Tell me how I could do all of this.” I was only surprised nothing fell after all that reverberation.

“I don’t know. You just did. You had to have. My husband would never keep any secrets from me.”

She didn’t want to hear me. We glared at each other before I left her standing there. I didn’t realize the key sat in my pocket until I reached into it. 

They always said death was never easy. Nothing like this has ever happened though. Did it? I mean, my father led a secret life nobody knew about only to be discovered when he died. He’s the only one with all the answers to this big giant mystery.

I wailed as intense and as long as I could muster. It felt draining, but I thought of that as a good thing. All of those trapped emotions must’ve lurked under the surface. Whatever they were. With nothing more to do, I put the key in and turned it.

Mom in front of the door. Her lips quivered. Deep breath in, I turned off the engine, and left my car to find out whatever else she might want.

“No. You go on right ahead. Let the construction people know they forgot to put in a floor and walls and—”

Maybe one more time. “You didn’t read the journals did you?”

“No. Did you?”

“Not all of them. I read the first two.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Don’t yell at me. I’m an old woman. I don’t like to be yelled at, especially by the likes of you. Traitor.”

I couldn’t do it anymore. “I’ll be there for the funeral. Otherwise, let me know when you are willing to talk.” The keys jiggled in my hand as I walked away. The quickened pace spurred the tears to fall.

The car started and I left. For good or not I had no idea. I didn’t know what to do or say. Not anymore.

I walked into my apartment and crashed on my bed. The next thing I knew, my clock read 07:45 AM and the middle of the bed was wet. Maybe a good shower would wash everything away.

A couple days passed before I had to get ready for the funeral. That time creeped every second before that point. Black pants suit on with a black shell top and my black flats, I was ready for the funeral.

Mom sat on a bench in front of a hole in the ground. I guessed it was the place that they were going to bury Dad. No rush in getting there, so I walked as slow as I could. There was no telling how Mom would react to my presence.

I had to try to at least be civil. “Good day, Mother.”

She looked at me before she bolted upright and squeezed the daylights out of me. I looked beyond Mom’s greying hair to my aunt who smiled. She kissed my cheek and held my hand while she led me to the bench. She patted it as she continued to hold it. I took that as a good thing.

After that, it was time to go home. There was still some stuff to take care of, but they didn’t have to be done at that moment. I waved goodbye before I started to walk to my car. “I just wish I would stop crying. It’s all I’ve done.” I dried the tears, or at least tried to, while I made my way down.

I still had another week before I had to get back to work. I had a feeling that week would go by real quick.

“Bidelia,” Mom said. “Bidelia.”

I turned around to Mom running towards me. “Yeah?”

“Let’s go home. There’s something we need to talk about.”

“OK.”

I followed Mom back to the house. What did she want to talk about? Was there something she needed to clarify? Did she read the journals and not understand? Not that I did, but I didn’t know. The longer we took the more questions popped in my head.

We got there. I turned off the engine and sat there as I watched her walk up the sidewalk. It’s not that I wanted to but I had to. Deep breath inhaled, let it all out, and… I had to get out at some point and stop this nonsense.

I followed her to the office. “Mom?”

“Oh, come here.” She waved me forward. “Nothing bad will happen, I promise.”

I walked towards her ready to get yelled at again. “What is it?”

“You say that like I want something bad to happen.” She took my hand and held it. “Just let me finish before you say anything.”

“OK.”

She patted my hand and smiled. “I talked to your aunt about everything and she yelled at me. How could she? My husband died and she yelled at me. I couldn’t understand why until she told me. ‘Your daughter lost a father. Here she is trying to tell you about something she found and you bit off her head. You want her to just come back to you and say I’m sorry Mommy?’” Mom sat down in Dad’s chair. That was when I realized the door was still open. “It did sound outrageous. So I’m sorry, my baby girl. Sorry for reacting the way I did. You just found out something I never knew about my man, my husband, my love. It felt like you wanted me to just forget about everything and discover something I never knew. I couldn’t forget and realize there were new things to learn. He was everything to me and I couldn’t.”

I got tired of standing. He never had any chair for guests because it was his office and his office alone. I leaned against the wall instead.

“I still haven’t read those journals. Well, I did what you told me you did and it was a man I never knew. I stopped there and didn’t go on. I’m afraid to go in there and discover things about him I never knew beyond… beyond this.” She swept her hands around the room. “That’s where I’m at now. So I am sorry.”

Well, she did apologize. However long it took. I couldn’t fault her. It had to be hard for her to learn that there was more to dear ol’ dad than what he presented. “It’s OK, Mom. I wouldn’t have started looking if it wasn’t for meeting this strange woman by the lake. I don’t know what to do. I tried looking for her again but I haven’t been able to find her. No number or address so I turned up a big fat nothing.” I looked at the bookcase. “How long it must’ve taken him to dig all of that up. It must’ve taken years to build and I can’t figure out how he did it.”

Mom nodded. “How about if we sit down with a cup of coffee. There’s cookies in the pantry we can have with that. Afterwards, we have to explore what’s in it. I don’t want to know but I have to. I just need you to do it with me. Please, Baby Girl?”

“Sure.” I smiled. It felt like old times.

The morning after, I went back to the lake to try one last time. “Constantina, if you’re listening, I wanted to tell you that because of you, a room full of secrets was discovered.” Nothing. The red bench was taken away. I shrugged and went back to my car. So I get called for being a lunatic. Oh well, worse things can happen.

I stopped at the entrance to be sure the traffic was clear. One last check in the rearview mirror, she stood behind my car and when she looked up I screamed. She didn’t have any eyes. They were black pits and her face was a white sheet.

I floored it, cars or no cars. That was something I wanted to forget. All of this because Dad died.

The End

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

Marian Wood: The Fate at Bleakden Lake

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 used are free-use images and do not require attribution

The Fate at Bleakden Lake

Marian Wood

Fear

As he walked down the narrow alley, he was sure he could hear footsteps behind him. Walking faster he could see the shadows around him growing. Suddenly all he knew was pain and darkness.

Elsie at the lake

The lake sparkled in the sunlight as the trees waved their branches at the water. Elsie sat on the red bench reading her phone, as she did most days. Lost in her dreams, reading Ben’s messenger messages and glad for an unlimited mobile data limit.

She had been with Ben for two years, last night they had a row which led to him walking out. Usually they were happy but now he wasn’t talking to her. Re-reading her messages of apology, she was confused as to what had gone wrong. Feeling pain in her stomach she could sense that something wasn’t right.

Ben was an accountant, happy in his work, and generally let stress wash over him. Deciding now to phone his mum, she needed to find him.

Listening to the phone ring, she was relieved when Mrs. Walsh answered.

“Hi, it’s Else, have you seen Ben at all?”

“No love, isn’t he with you?”

Feeling a sick feeling, she said, “No, we had a row and he stormed out. I will phone his work.”

“If you find him, let me know.”

“I will phone you if I find him, but if he’s not at work I’m phoning the police.”

“Do you really think something’s happened?” Elsie could hear the concern in her voice.

“He’s ignored all my messages. I thought he stayed with you last night. Something is wrong.”

“Please let me know if you find him.”

Raising concern

“I will. Speak soon.” Hanging up, Elsie could feel her heart beating faster. Dialling the number for ‘Fraser and Pennings,’ she already knew that he was missing. As Emma the receptionist answered, she started stammering.

“Hi, err, it’s Elsie, is Ben available please.”

“Oh Elsie, we were going to phone you. He hasn’t turned up for work and he’s not answering his phone.”

With her head hurting, she now said, “I haven’t seen him since yesterday and neither has his mum. Something’s wrong, I’m phoning the police.”

“If you find him, let us know as we are concerned here.”

“Okay.” Hanging up, now was the time to report him missing.

Ben

Ben Walsh was a handsome twenty-five-year-old accountant. He had no enemies and his friends found him fun to be with. He was easy going and happy most of the time. At least this is what the world saw. He had kept his fears to himself. Fears of being watched that he had dismissed. Deciding that he was paranoid, and blaming the crime shows on the television, he had asked, why would anyone follow him?

Not wanting to tell partner Elsie what was happening. He had been jumping at people hiding in the shadows. It was this that had led to him walking out of the house straight into the local bar. He had worked through clients in his head, who might he have upset? Who might have a vendetta? Where had he gone wrong? He had suspicions, events of the last six months could have led him into trouble, and he questioned daily whether he needed to talk to the police.

Ben knew he should have been more careful, now regretting not telling Elsie, as tonight after being smashed over the head he had woken up to darkness and the rocking and engine of a moving car. Where was he being taken?

Investigation

Detective Clare Miller looked at the new file on her desk. The face of the handsome accountant looking up at her. Reading through the notes she replayed his evening in her head. Stressed and maybe angry at Elsie, he had run out of the house. Grabbing her coat, she knew the first place to ask questions was the local pub.

Calling to Sergeant Pete Humphrey, she knew she needed backup.

“Come on Pete, ‘Purple Heart,’ now.” Pete was ready for a pint, it had been a long day, but he knew this wasn’t a social visit.

Arriving at the pub, it didn’t take Clare long to find out that Ben had been there the previous evening cuddling a pint of ‘John Smiths.’ The bar lady reported that he had been there more often than usual, and something seemed to be resting on his mind.

As they got up to leave a young woman approached them. “Excuse me, err you police?”

“Yes.”

“Err, sorry couldn’t help but overhear. The man at the bar last night, has he gone missing?”

“Sorry ma’am, we can’t tell you that.”

“My ex, Roy Wallis, followed him outta da pub. Roy is real mean and has a record.” She then looked around her. “I shouldn’t be talking to you.”

“Thank you, and your name is?”

“Paula.”

Clare Miller dug into her pocket, thinking this woman is either stupid or very brave.

“Here’s my card. If you need us, phone.”

Paula nodded and now walked back to her game at the pool table. Clare looked at Pete, what were they dealing with here? What had happened to the young accountant?

Captured

Straining at the ropes around his wrist, Ben could taste the blood in his mouth. Unsure of what the time was, he looked at his surroundings. Smelling the cold, muddy water, he shivered. His wet jeans clung to him and, rubbing his wrists against the wooden pole he was tied to, he asked God to please help him. To please make the ropes snap and release him from his wet cell.

The gag stuffed in his mouth meant that a scream produced a muffled sound. With despair in his heart, he thought of his family and Elsie. Wondering whether they had alerted the police. Did they even know he was missing?

Detective Clare Miller

“Detective, look what I’ve found. Roy Wallis—look.”

Taking the file from her Inspector, she motioned him to sit down. Reading through, she knew this was it, it had to be him. Typing into her computer for unsolved cases, she now read her colleague’s notes about a jewellery heist from six months ago. Turning to witnesses questioned, she found Ben Walsh.

Ben had been held hostage when a jewellery store in the city had been raided. Clare wondered if he ever made his purchase, or whether the heist had put him off visiting places. Reading the records, Ben had given descriptions of his captors, but the thieves had not been caught.

The evidence now suggested that Roy Wallis was involved. He had a record of burglary and GBH.

“Come on Pete, we need to bring in Mr. Wallis.” She felt the familiar excitement of a case coming together.

Grabbing her coat, she led the way to her car.

Rescue

It was hours later, as night was drawing in, that a crew of police officers were sent to the hut at Bleakden Lake.

Roy had given in and spilled everything, telling how he had kidnapped Ben, after Ben had recognised him in the pub. His gang had been watching him for months. He was lucky to have just found himself tied up and not dead. That had been Roy’s next move after he had gotten the gang involved. The hut at the lake had been the hiding place for a few of his misdemeanours. Ben and that damned detective had all led to his downfall.

Ben

Cuddling up in Elsie’s arms, he knew he didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. Had those thugs not been in ‘Hardings’ Jewellery store that day, they could have been making wedding plans right now. Too scared to buy a ring for fear of having another gun put in his face. Ben knew though that life was short, and his life would have ended at the lake if Detective Clare Miller and Inspector Pete Humphrey hadn’t have worked it out. If their questioning hadn’t made Roy Wallis reveal his muddy hiding place, it was likely he would now be dead. Ben knew that now was as good a time as any to ask her.

“Elsie, you know I love you.”

“Yes, and I love you too.”

Getting to the floor and onto one knee, he took Elsie’s hand. She started to smile. She didn’t need to be asked, she knew her answer.

“Elsie, thanks to the Jewellery store robbery, I have not gotten you a ring yet, but will you be my wife? Will you marry me?”

Smiling, she threw her arms around his neck and said, “Yes, of course I’ll marry you.”

Holding each other close, this felt right, and a nice ending to something that could have ended with his death.

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Please visit Marian on her blog: https://justmuddlingthroughlife.co.uk/

Alfred Warren Smith: A PLACE FOR PEACE

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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A PLACE FOR PEACE

By Alfred Warren Smith

The bright red of the painted bench seemed an act of rebellion in and of itself.

Since his discharge from the army, the prospects for his postwar success dried up like raisins in a drought. The rooms for rent grew cheaper and seedier, but never free, and a man can only descend so far.

He was down to just carrying his duffel bag, the last of his money, at the end of his rope. Swallowing the bitter pills of the last of his pride, he left the hot, dirty building for the hot, dirty streets.

Didn’t think I’d be sleeping under the stars again so soon.

*************

The city’s citizenry were increasingly uneasy with the rising homeless population. They were less helpful, more hostile, and there were bullies and worse who thought nothing of preying on them.

Fighting over there had prepared him. Still, he was aware of every nervous tic and twitch that made him look like a shell-shocked, restless bum. All too aware of every movement and every sound.

He saw the bright red bench gleaming like a rising red sun on a green sea; there was no one around, and he decided to take a rest on it. Perhaps even a nap.

I hope the cops don’t roust me; that could end badly.

************

He searched his duffel bag, rooting around: with his fingers he shoved the medals aside and peered into it. He still had two camouflage jackets, two journals bound with black leather covers, and a knife with a large, wicked looking blade.

He repacked the medals and threw the knife in the manmade lake. Curious, he opened one of the journals, but it was too dark to read it clearly now.

The park was emptying as people went home to their lights, warmth, and loved ones, but he had nowhere to go.

He went back in the duffel and took out one of the jackets, placed the duffel under his head, and stretched out to sleep. Where his previous training would have had him on edge listening for sounds that meant he was a target of someone hiding in the trees, he felt no sense of danger and vulnerability now.

Sleep took him under its wing.

Through the night, the dreams and nightmares played tag.

He relived it all.

 ************

The long, hot nights with working girls that gave an artful illusion of love for a few hours in smoky, perfumed places.

Running across the killing fields, legs pumping on adrenaline as bullets tugged at the extra cloth on his uniform as he fled, the splattering of broken, busted flesh with bones poking through skin at odd angles as the man running next to him was suddenly no longer there, and he couldn’t hear his own screams or his heart hammering in fear.

The slap and flutter of well-worn cards played by small fires, and eating silently in the dark on stormy, starless nights.

Sleep was as rare as finding an uncut diamond in plain sight, and far more precious.

Taking stock when the skirmishes were over: the dead, the soon-to-be dead, friends, and some precious few he’d named as brothers.

The scent of blood, the cacophonous clusters of crows, flies, and vultures.

***************

Something hit his head, jolting him; he’d fallen asleep, slipping off the bench, bumping his head.

He felt light and unburdened somehow.

He knew the dreams had been dark, but couldn’t remember them at all. Everything he recalled seemed innocent, even innocuous.

All the memories of war’s ravages were gone.

How did I get here? What am I doing here?

************

In the morning a jogger found him and called the police.

The EMTs zipped the body bag closed as the birds began to sing and a rind of orange sun turned the night clouds shades of pink and blue.

The cops went through the duffel, saw the medals.

“All that combat,” one said, “and he gets to go out peacefully in the most quiet place in the park.”

The ME took a look at the bright red bench with an expression that got the cop’s attention, so he looked at the bench too.

“Something wrong, doc?”

“Nothing. Just, it’s not the first time it’s happened at this spot, and a lot of old veterans seem to find their way over here.”

“No kidding. Why do you think that is?”

The ME came out of his reverie, looked at the cop and shrugged.

“I don’t know. Guess it’s what you said yourself: it’s the quietest place in the park.”

“Makes it easier to slip away?”

The ME looked at the bench again, the red gathering some vibrancy in the growing, paling light, then at the midnight black body bag loaded in the back of the ambulance as the doors closed.

“To be finally at peace? Yeah, that ends all kinds of wars.”

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Lisa Criss Griffin: The Night Dive

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

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The Night Dive

By Lisa Criss Griffin

The sun was shining brightly overhead by the time Wes and Kari finished setting up their campsite close to the clear, sparkling water. Naturally spring-fed, the old abandoned limestone quarry was now only open to certified scuba divers. Divemasters used it regularly to teach PADI certification classes, from novices to various specialties. Other divers used it recreationally, as various objects of interest peppered the bottom. Wes and Kari had logged many dives, but felt a need for some time underwater before their upcoming dive trip to the Bahamas. 

They noticed a group of fellow divers on the other side of the quarry, laughing and generally having a good time. The couple waved to the group and enjoyed their lunch on a lovely red bench next to their campsite. 

“Meheheh-heh-heh…aaaack!”

“What the heck was that?”

The group across the way burst into laughter and began to pull on their dive equipment in preparation for their next dive. The couple scanned the hillside beyond the other divers. A group of small white goats made a sudden appearance, calling to each other as they stood on top of the hill overlooking the lake. There was one goat making a pitifully mutant sound, and it was almost impossible not to laugh when the poor old thing bellowed!

“Meheheheh-ack-ack-ack. Uuuuuh…mehhhh!”

Kari tried not to choke on her sandwich as she stifled a laugh. Wes pounded her gently on her back, while he struggled to keep Pepsi from spraying out of his nostrils all over the pretty red bench. The ridiculous bleating faded back over the hillside, offering them a respite from further culinary disaster.

The mystery of the mutant goat bellow solved, Wes and Kari prepared for their first dive. They checked and rechecked their equipment, as was their habit. Safety had been solidly drummed into their diving skills by their instructors. Each had a bungee-corded plastic knocker around their air tank. When pulled and released against the air tank, the knocker made a loud sound underwater, and easily drew the attention of the other dive partner. They always stayed within eyesight of each other while underwater.

Wes took a giant stride from the rocky edge of the quarry and disappeared into a splash of cerulean blue water. He popped up like a cork and gave Kari the required okay signal. She stepped off the edge, enjoying the instant relief of the cool, clear water as she sank and then felt herself rising quickly back to the surface. She let Wes know she was okay before they let the air out of their buoyancy compensators and sank into the relative quiet of the stunningly beautiful underwater world.

Colorful bluegill darted playfully around the stone walls, easily avoiding the intrusion of the divers. Large bass calmly watched Wes and Kari’s progress to the bottom of the quarry, their dark round eyes following the rising trail of silver bubbles wiggling their way towards the surface of the lake. 

A submerged cabin cruiser lay upright, but listed slightly to the starboard side on the bottom of the quarry. It was just one of the large items of interest scattered about the lake for the divers. Schools of tiny fish fry flicked quickly into the shelter of the boat cabin as they approached the sunken craft. The two divers adjusted their equipment and became buoyantly neutral, allowing them to hover in place effortlessly. 

Kari loved scuba diving the moment she discovered she could breathe underwater. It was a calmer, quieter world, unless something large was feeding. She had seen feeding frenzies during ocean dives, but even then, it was the speed of the strikes that amazed her, not the sound. Sounds were different underwater. It was almost impossible to hear what direction a sound was coming from, and sound carried a long way underwater. However, the closer a sound was, the louder it became. In the ocean, she could usually hear the generator of the dive boat before she could see the vessel’s dark underbelly silhouetted against the surface of the saltwater.

Wes caught her eye and they finned lazily over to the small airplane around the corner. The plane was tilted at an odd angle, resting on the tip of one wing and the edge of the lower main fuselage. Kari had never seen an airplane underwater. It felt slightly eerie to see it interred in such an unexpected final resting place. 

She shook off her otherworldly impression and twirled in slow motion under the wing, surprising several small fish resting in the shadows under the metal. Kari came out from underneath the wing and swam over the cockpit, enjoying the gadgetry that had been left intact for divers to view. She had heard the visibility in this place was outstanding. It was. She could see clearly for at least one hundred feet before objects began fading into the blue haze of the water. 

The sound of a loud metallic clank drew her attention. Wes pointed to his dive computer and signaled it was time to return to their entrance site. Kari checked her air pressure on her dive computer, noting she had used most of the air in her tank also.

They swam back past the sunken boat and began a slow ascent to the surface. The pair leveled off around fifteen feet and hung effortlessly in the water by the rocky wall. They always took a five minute safety stop at the end of a dive in order to prevent the bends. 

A curious bluegill swam up to Kari’s face mask. It looked her boldly in the eyes before it unexpectedly rushed up and pecked her mask directly in front of her left eye. Surprised, she sucked in her breath, then began laughing as the fish devoted itself to thoroughly pecking the front of her mask. Silver bubbles wobbled their way upwards every time she laughed. 

Bluegill could be aggressive little creatures, but she was impressed that her relative size meant nothing to the persistent little fellow. She could hear Wes laughing at the antics of the persistent perch as it rammed her face mask, over and over. She checked her dive computer, noting it was time to surface. The bluegill circled in front of his territory in triumph as they slowly kicked their way to the surface.

They removed their regulators from their mouths and climbed out of the clear blue water, still laughing at the audacity of the peckish bluegill. The pair shed their equipment, changed out their tanks and spent a few minutes soaking up the late afternoon sun.

“I’m so hungry!” Wes finally admitted.

“Oh my gosh, me too!!!”

Kari opened the cooler and the pair ate several sandwiches, Fritos and apples. They washed it all down with a couple bottles of water. One of the nice perks of scuba diving was an increase in body metabolism. Kari could eat anything she wanted when she was diving and never gain a pound. There were a lot of great perks to scuba diving in her opinion. She was already looking forward to gorging herself on S’mores tonight after their night dive! She unwrapped a stray Hershey bar, savoring every delightful bite of the delicious chocolate. Wes smiled at her, knowing she had brought more chocolate than she could possibly eat. And then again…maybe not.

Wes gathered some twigs and stacked a small pile of firewood next to their campsite fire pit for use after their night dive. They passed the necessary time between their two dives talking about their previous dive experiences and laughing at the random bellowing of the poor old mutant goat across the lake. 

The other group of divers were well into a night dive as the pair began to suit up for their own night dive. The moon had come up, casting an ethereal glow over the landscape. A light breeze wafted by, carrying a faint aroma of smelly goat along with it.

“It is obviously time to get in the water and away from this pungent goat odor for awhile!” Wes laughed as he did his first equipment check.

“Ooooo…phew! I agree. But I have to say those goats have presented a singular memory for me to record in my dive log later!” Kari giggled.

They did their second equipment check and performed a mutual check of each other’s dive equipment.

“Where do you want to go on this dive?” Wes asked as he clicked on his powerful dive light.

“Let’s go the other way along the quarry wall until we see the sunken caboose. That should be interesting, and I think there is also a fun obstacle course to swim through close by the train.”

“Sounds like a plan!” 

Wes splashed into the silvery surface of the water and reappeared, waiting for Kari. She stepped off the rocky ledge, the memory of the insistent little bluegill causing her to smile as she rose back to the surface. They dropped down the side of the quarry wall together and leveled off about thirty feet down. Ambient light from the full moon still illuminated the crystal clear water at that depth. The intensity of their dive lights brought clarity to interesting details.

Kari was following Wes, enjoying the serenity of the night dive when her light ran across something unusual. It had an unnaturally pale cast to it and was barely visible from under a protruding rock ledge below them. Her curiosity peaked, she dropped farther down the quarry wall to see what it could possibly be. The overhang appeared to be the top of a shallow cave. The moonlight disappeared at this depth, and she could only see what was illuminated within the cone of light from her dive light. Except for the sound of her breathing through her respirator, the underwater silence was deafening. 

She could still see Wes’ dive light a little above and in front of her. Her light slid down the rocky overhang and paused on the pale thing protruding from beneath the ledge. She swam closer, and then closer to it, her mind not wanting to make sense out of what she was seeing. Kari quickly stopped, gasping in horrified disbelief at the sight in front of her. Waves of sheer panic washed over her as she struggled to maintain her composure!

Ten feet in front of her, an unnaturally pale, bare human leg rested on the floor of the rock ledge. Loose rocks covered everything above the calf, suggesting an unexpected rock slide. Kari’s eyes dilated as she reached back and clanked her tank to draw Wes’ attention. She began to hyperventilate and realized she needed to get to the surface. She continued to clank her tank as she carefully made her way up to the smooth moonlit surface of the lake. She spit out her regulator as her head broke the water.

“Shit!!! Holy shit!!! Oh my gaaaaaawd! Oh…my…gaaaaaawd!!!” 

Kari thrashed in the water as something tickled her leg.

“What the HELL!!” 

Kari tried to calm down as she realized bubbles from Wes’ regulator were rising underneath her and tickling her legs. She could see his light as he made his way to the surface next to her. She was still hyperventilating as he pulled the regulator from his mouth in concern.

“What’s the matter, Kari? What is wrong? Are you hurt?”

Kari shook her head no. She could see the concern in his eyes, but she couldn’t seem to talk. 

“Okay…take some slow, deep breaths. In….out….in…..out…. That is better. Start slow. Tell me what is wrong.”

“Dead guy…dead guy down there!!!”

“What???” Wes replied incredulously.

“His leg…sticking out…rock slide!”

“Can you show me?”

“What? No! Are you fricking kidding me?”

“Kari, if that is what you saw, we need to get some help. Please, we need to be sure. I will be right there with you. We don’t have to get too close to know. You don’t need to be afraid with me there. Wouldn’t you want somebody to be sure if it was one of us?”

Kari took several deep, cleansing breaths as Wes reached out and put her trembling hand between his two warm, steady hands.

“You’re right, Wes. We need to be sure. It is almost directly below us. But, you go down in front of me. It is about forty-five feet down…I think.” 

Wes and Kari checked their dive computers even though they had only been down less than fifteen minutes. Everything checked out.

“Alright Kari. No matter what we see, we will come back up and do a five-minute safety stop at fifteen feet before we surface. Agreed?”

“Yes. Yes, of course.”

“Okay then. Let’s go do the right thing. Ready?”

Kari nodded, put her regulator back in her mouth and let the air out of her BC. They allowed themselves to sink back down into the grayish moonlit depths, descending closer and closer to the unthinkable horror that awaited them in the darkness below. 

Wes saw it about the same time Kari clanked her tank, illuminating the rocky overhang with her light. The foot and leg were still there, motionless in the still, black water of the old quarry. She could hear Wes utter some muffled expletives as he dropped down a little closer to see what it was for himself. She hung back, not wanting to add to the visual carnage already burned into her brain. 

Wes looked up at her and signaled for them to go up. They did their safety stop, grateful for almost full tanks since they were both sucking their air quickly. Kari found herself shivering, even though the water was pleasantly warm. They surfaced together. 

“Holy shit, Kari! We need to get some help. Come on.”

The two horrified divers climbed out of the silent, silvery water, removed their dive gear and changed into dry clothes. The other group of divers across the way were sitting around a roaring bonfire. Their unintelligible conversations and laughter drifted over the lake through the cool night air.

Wes folded Kari into his strong, protective arms and kissed the top of her damp head lovingly. He felt her arms squeeze him lightly before she stepped back. Wes grabbed her hand. They used a bright flashlight to pick their way around the quarry’s limestone perimeter towards the group of divers.

“Hello…fellow divers!” Wes called before they reached the group.

“Hey! Come join us!” a deep, jovial voice boomed.

Wes turned off the flashlight as they stepped into the warm glow of the bright firelight. Orange sparks exploded into the night sky as someone tossed another piece of wood onto the bonfire.

“Want a beer?”

“Yes!!!” Kari exclaimed.

Two cold beers were quickly pressed into the couple’s hands and introductions were made all around. The booming voice belonged to Big Sal, who was the divemaster of the group.

“Soooo…do you know what all the excitement was about earlier? We thought we heard someone have a bit of a meltdown,” Big Sal confided.

Kari walked up to Big Sal and looked him straight in the eye.

“There is a dead guy down there in the quarry.”

“What? What are you saying?”

“I’m telling you we saw a dead guy down there! His foot and leg are sticking out from under a ledge. It looks like the rest of him is buried under a rockslide.” 

There was a moment of horrified silence before Big Sal burst out laughing.

“Ooooooh shit! Bahahahaha!!! I’ll be danged! She found your missing leg, Gregory!”

Big Sal doubled over in laughter as the rest of the group hooted and laughed with him.

“What the hell, man! This isn’t funny! There is a dead guy down there! What the hell is wrong with you people!” Wes shouted.

“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, man!” Big Sal choked out between guffaws. “We are rescue divers doing our certification training this weekend. You found one of the props we were using that SOMEBODY couldn’t find! Oh man….”

Big Sal exploded into laughter once again as a sheepish Gregory walked over to the couple, apologizing profusely.

“Well, thank goodness!” Kari breathed in relief. “No offense, but I don’t think this particular dive specialty is something I want to pursue, folks! That was freaking creepy!!!”

“Well, Kari…Wes. If you ever change your mind about rescue diving, I will be happy to teach you both at a discounted rate. We really are sorry to have unintentionally ruined your night dive. Say, would you like some burgers? Or some S’mores? We were about to toast some marshmallows,” Big Sal offered.

“S’mores, you say?” Kari asked with enormous interest.

Gregory pulled up a set of lawn chairs next to the fire for Wes and Kari.

“All the S’mores you want, honey….” promised a repentant Gregory.

Wes smiled to himself. When it came to Kari and S’mores, the rescue divers would find themselves unable to keep up with this girl. It was a small price to pay for losing a leg.

**********

Copyright © 2020 Lisa Criss Griffin

All rights reserved

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Lynn Miclea: Endless Connection

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 used are free-use images and do not require attribution

Endless Connection

by Lynn Miclea

Jenna stood there, staring into the open grave. A layer of dirt, thrown on there by the shovelful, now lay on top of the casket. How could her brother Jake have died so young? It wasn’t fair. Glancing away and focusing on a nearby tree, she sucked in a breath and shuddered. Then she looked back into the grave as tears ran down her face. Anguish, regret, and grief overwhelmed her, and she covered her face with her hands. How could she live without him? Jake was more than her brother — he was her twin and her best friend. They were bonded together. He should still be here. She shook her head as grief engulfed her. It made no sense.

Choking, her breath ragged, she left the cemetery and drove to a nearby park. After parking the car, she walked along the dirt path that circled the lake. At one end, a red bench sat nestled in the trees. Exhausted and overwhelmed, she settled on the bench and gazed out over the clear, blue lake.

“Why, God? Why?” She looked up at the sky, but she knew there was no answer.

Her thoughts drifted back to the last time she had seen him, just a few short days ago. He was wearing that red and black flannel shirt that he loved, a silly, goofy smile on his face, his light brown hair hanging over his forehead. The image brought a sad smile to her face. She loved his goofiness — he could make her laugh no matter what. And she loved him in that shirt. In fact, she insisted that he be buried in that shirt. It suited him and was the way she would always remember him.

He was her twin in many ways. They were like one person so much of the time. They could read each other’s thoughts, finish each other’s sentences, and just look at each other and know what the other was thinking. It was like they had a psychic connection. And now … now her soul yearned for that connection, but he wasn’t there. Her heart felt crushed. Empty. He was her other half, and she kept expecting him to be right there. How was she supposed to survive without him?

She took a deep breath, listening to the sounds of the gentle waves on the lake and the leaves rustling above her in the trees. Something drifted down in her line of vision — two beautiful, soft feathers. She held out her cupped hand and caught one of them, while the other fluttered to the ground. She looked at the feather in her hand — it was silky and red and black. “Jake? Is that you? Did you send this to me?” Silence answered her. She could only hear the soft rippling of the lake and the rustling of leaves.

Looking down at the dirt near her feet, she saw the other red and black feather. She smiled. It had to be Jake. Two feathers for the two of them. Bending forward, as she reached for the feather, a spot of color caught her attention. Immediately under the feather was a small, torn corner of a blanket. Soft fleece in red and black. Too much to be a coincidence.

She picked up the second feather and the fleece. “Jake? I know it’s you. But what are you telling me?” The corner of the blanket felt soft and comforting. It felt like peace. Her smile widened. Was he telling her he made it and he’s now comfortable and at peace? She hoped so, and it felt right.

Letting out a long breath, she whispered to the air, “Thank you, Jake. I hope you’re okay.”

A soft whisper of wind gently caressed her hand, causing the two feathers to dance in her palm and then settle down.

She shook her head. The yearning for Jake was too strong — she must be imagining things. Her gaze drifted out over the lake one last time as she started to get up. Pushing herself up from the red bench, she stood and gazed at the two feathers and the piece of fleece in her hand. Something fluttered under the fleece — what was that? A thin piece of paper peeked out.

She picked up the small piece of paper and read the words printed on it.

I am home. I am at peace. I am with you.

She convulsed into sobs and then stuffed the feathers, the fleece, and the note into her pocket. There was no mistaking the message or who it was from. But how was that possible? She knew they had a strong, psychic connection, but could he do this?

“Thank you, Jake. I love you,” she whispered to the air.

She started down the path toward her car. As she walked, a sweet woman’s voice, singing a lullaby, drifted through the air and grew louder. As she walked farther down the path and got closer to the sweet voice, a young woman pushing a baby stroller came into view, and the young woman was gently singing to her baby.

Suddenly embarrassed, the lady blushed and stopped singing. Then she smiled at Jenna. “It’s a beautiful, magical day, isn’t it?”

Jenna stared at her for a moment, then quickly collected herself. “Yes, yes, absolutely. Beautiful and magical. Definitely.”

She smiled at the lady and then walked by, hearing the woman begin singing the lullaby again. Jenna turned around to glance at the woman, but no one was there. The path was empty.

It made no sense. None of it made sense.

But Jake had sent her a clear message. The scent of his aftershave washed over her, and she could feel his warmth.

Yes, a beautiful and magical day indeed.

He was still with her. A connection that was truly endless.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2020 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-sF

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

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

Paula Shablo: The First Riverview Avenue Bench

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 used are free-use images and do not require attribution

The First Riverview Avenue Bench

By Paula Shablo

It was really nothing more than a footpath, wide enough for two people to walk side by side in most spots, and in the few wider areas, possibly a third person could squeeze in without straddling the edge.

As far as Meredith was concerned, the path had always been there. Her parents had walked that path, Meredith leading the way in her stroller at first, then on her tricycle. When she outgrew those, she walked too, always ahead of her mother and dad, always on the lookout for friends and neighbors doing the same.

Meredith was about to go into second grade the first time she heard someone discussing the possibility of paving Riverview Avenue.

No one living had any recollection of the path being named; even Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge said it was already so-called when he was a little boy, and he didn’t know who was responsible for that. Billy Dodge was ninety-six the summer Meredith was seven, and she had a hard time picturing her dad’s grandfather as a little boy, but surely he had been one. No one was born old.

The great paving debate of 1967 was brief, hot, and quickly squashed by the locals.

Of course, it had been proposed by a transplanted resident who simply couldn’t comprehend the history of Riverview Avenue, and taken up by other transplants who didn’t like to get mud on their shoes when they walked after a rainstorm or during spring runoff.

Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge ended that city council meeting by suggesting that anyone afraid of banging mud off their shoes ought to go back to wherever they came from, and all the locals cheered.

Meredith thought the whole idea had been a silly one. There were tons of trees along the path, and they helped keep things relatively dry. The Parks and Recreation people spread pine needles and leaves after heavy rains or runoffs. It wasn’t all that muddy in the first place; certainly no one had ever lost a shoe. That happened to her all the time taking the shortcut to school through the empty lot where the new library would eventually go up, and no one ever brought up paving there.

Riverview Avenue had been a footpath along the scenic Riverside since the town had been established back in the early days of the 19th century. Over two hundred years’ worth of walking feet had worn the path down into the well-defined rut that the locals filled with fresh soil periodically so it wouldn’t end up being feet-deep and impassable. Sprinklings of pine needles and mulched leaves and twigs gave it a springy surface. No one came home from a walk with aching feet.

Pavement? No way!

“Dat path? ’Twas a deer trail, I reckon,” Great-Grandpa told Meredith. “My pappy tole me it was dere when he was just a sprat, an’ dat was long ago.”

“Was it Riverview Avenue then, Grampy?” Meredith asked.

“Yup, always was, I reckon. Started as a joke, Pap said. Folks’d agree ta meet on the avenue, have a walk, share a picnic. Couples fell in love dere. Like your own mama and daddy.”

Meredith loved the stories of couples falling in love while walking the avenue. She especially loved her parents’ story, since they were the first couple to put a bench beside the path in the place where they shared their first kiss.

Dad had gone to work for Parks and Recreation while he was still in high school, and he’d gone on with them until his retirement in 1999. When he married Mom in 1958, part of his job was building park benches for the county parks and the various bus stops around the towns in the county.

He devised a little plan that summer. Newly wedded and happy as a lark, he used some of his own money to purchase materials and assemble a park bench. Getting permission to place it on the path was easier than he’d expected; his supervisor was deeply romantic and loved the idea. Dad built the bench and painted it, and placed it when the time came.

On their first wedding anniversary, Dad took Mom for a walk along Riverview Avenue. They slowed their pace as they approached the place where they had shared their first kiss. It was also the place where Dad had proposed.

“Why, Alan!” Mom exclaimed. “There’s a bench here!”

“Well, let’s have a look,” Dad said.

A plaque on the bright red bench read: “First Kiss—May 3, 1955. Proposal—May 3, 1957. Wedding—May 3, 1958. What a Lucky Day!”

Of course, Mom had cried some happy tears that May 3rd of 1959. No one had ever gotten their own park bench as an anniversary gift before!

Meredith was born May 3, 1960.

No one ever believed that was a coincidence. It was their lucky day, after all.

~*~

On May 3, 1978, Meredith and her parents took a walk on Riverview Avenue, and stopped to sit on the Anniversary bench. It was still bright red; Dad painted it every spring, and it had recently gotten its annual touch up.

They spoke of memories and plans for the future. Meredith would soon graduate and be off to college in the fall. “I have celebrated every birthday on this bench,” Meredith said. “I hope next year, I will be able to be here.”

When next year came, her parents were there, but Meredith was not. Spring break hadn’t had the consideration to fall during that week. But when she checked her mail that morning, she found a birthday card from her parents. Inside were a generous check and a photograph of the Anniversary bench.

On May 3, 1980, Meredith was home for the weekend. It had been planned in advance; school was going well, and she didn’t have a Friday afternoon class, so she’d flown in the night before.

What hadn’t been part of the plan was Dad’s sudden gallbladder attack and surgery the night before. Mom and Dad were spending their 22nd anniversary in the hospital, and Meredith had been sent home to take their walk on Riverview Avenue without them. “Take a picture of our bench!” Dad instructed. “I didn’t take one this year, because I knew you would be here.”

It’s my birthday, Meredith thought as she neared the curve on the avenue, the one where she’d be able to see the bench on the path ahead as soon as she cleared it. I’m alone on my birthday. My parents are sitting in a hospital on their anniversary. It doesn’t feel like a very lucky day today.

Ahead of her now: the bench. Someone was sitting there. A man.

As she got nearer, she thought the man looked familiar to her; but she was sure she didn’t know him. Should she stop? Keep walking?

Why should she? It wasn’t his bench. Who was this guy, and why was he sitting on her parents’ bench?

That was silly. Anyone could sit anywhere. Yes, there was a plaque, but it didn’t actually have their name on it. None of the other benches along the avenue had names; it had happened gradually, over time, that other people had placed benches with important dates all along the riverfront path. Some marked wedding anniversaries. Some marked birthdates. Some celebrated a graduation date, and some even marked memorials of long lives lived.

It was traditional these days to walk the avenue and read the plaques and try to guess the names behind the dates and celebrations.

The man looked up at Meredith as she paused. “Hi,” he said. He frowned thoughtfully. “Meredith?”

“Yes.” Meredith frowned, too. “Do I know you?”

He grinned. “Roger Burke,” he said, extending his hand for a shake. “I think I was a senior the year you started high school. I liked hearing you sing in the musicals.”

Meredith blushed. She remembered the days of hoping to run off and sing on Broadway when she grew up. Now she was working on her teaching degree. Dreams die hard sometimes.

“I like this bench,” Roger went on. “I think it has the best location of any on the avenue.”

“It was the first,” Meredith commented.

“Do you know whose it is?” Roger asked. “I was hoping I would run into the Anniversary couple today. I haven’t managed to be here on the right day, ever, since I started being curious about the benches.”

Meredith made up her mind, and sat down.

On that day, her 20th birthday, she shared the story of the first Riverview Avenue bench.

It turned out to be a lucky day, after all.

A year later, Roger proposed to her there. Her parents, healthy and happy, were there with them, celebrating twenty-three years together. They cheered.

A year after that, Meredith and Roger gathered on Riverview Avenue with all their family and friends, took their vows and celebrated with the biggest picnic supper the path had ever hosted.

Late in the day, it started to rain. Shoes got muddy. No one cared.

A little rain can’t compete with a lucky day.

~*~

May 3, 2022

Mom and Dad led the way on the walk this morning, each seated in a wheelchair, pushed along by Meredith and Roger.

The bench, now a ripe old sixty-three years old, was waiting for them, freshly painted bright red. Riverview Avenue had recently been built up with fresh soil, and the ground under the bench had been renewed as well. It would never do to let it sink into the earth.

Meredith and Roger, both only children, had let the admonition to be fruitful and multiply go to their head. Their five children, along with their spouses and a dozen grandchildren, followed along, swinging picnic baskets and toting blankets and coolers with soft drinks.

Mom and Dad were helped out of their chairs and seated on the bench. Picnic goodies were spread all around, just off the path, and when everyone was supplied with a soft drink, aluminum cans were raised in a celebratory toast. “Happy Anniversary!”

Dad smiled and raised his soda can. “Here’s to the luckiest!” he cried. “That would be us.”

“Yes,” Meredith agreed. “That would be us.” She raised her own can and sent a silent cheer to Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge, who had passed at the age of 102. He had shared the story of the benches with her, and she had no doubt he was with them still, in his own way.

Happy tears were shed, but were soon interrupted when little Mikey cried, “Okay, okay. Let’s eat.”

After some good-natured laughter, that’s exactly what they did.

What a lucky day, indeed.

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

Sonia Beltz: Hell by the Water

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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Hell by the Water

by Sonia Beltz

When Harrison woke up on that red bench, he was certain that he must have been dreaming. He slid his hand across the boards, which had the same smooth, lacquered texture as they had once upon a time, feeling the tiny imperfections in the paint on the right side, where his mother had allowed him to use his goofily large child’s paintbrush to coat the wood while she dutifully coated the rest. His eyes lifted from the seat, climbing the twisted iron bars that held the back erect. A leaf of golden rust flaked from the surface, drifting easily to the snakepit of roots beneath. Then there was the back itself, lacquered the same brilliant red as the seat, but less for wear, save for the tiny strip where two pairs of initials had been carved into it by soft hands. 

This couldn’t be. He couldn’t be… Rippling waves splashed gently against a dirt shore, and his head snapped to the left where, sure enough, the lake sat, its dark waters chuckling maniacally in the wind. He shot to his feet, almost tripping on the knotty roots that swirled beneath his feet. 

This was a dream; he was certain now. He closed his eyes and pinched himself, at first lightly, then harder, more vigorously. This would turn to a nightmare if he couldn’t get — pinch — out — pinch — of — pinch — here. 

He opened his eyes slowly, carefully, but only saw the face of those waters leering at him from between the trees. A cool panic poured icy sweat over his back as the lake swelled, then, slowly, receded. He couldn’t stay here. He glanced down at the bench again, shook his head violently, then proceeded to take one step away from the lake.

As he did, the roots snaked up, wrapping tightly around his ankles, and pulled him back into place. With a furrowed brow and a frown, he stared at their now still forms, then attempted to take another step. This time, they were nowhere near as gentle, practically hissing as they leaped at his legs, constricting him with their sinuous, hard bodies. He tugged his legs upward, but the roots pulled back, causing him to fall futilely onto the bench.

Rubbing his head, he got to his feet again. A light wind brushed through the trees, but all he could hear was the ebb and flow of the waves as they watched and waited. This couldn’t be happening. Why was he stuck here? What had he done to deserve this? Something like nausea bubbled in his throat, but he stuffed it back down, steadying his head as he gazed from tree to tree, trying to avoid the waters that now sounded louder than ever inside of his head. 

The trees! He was surrounded! He spun around, taking comfort in the prison-bar birches he had once been so certain held ghosts between their narrow trunks. His mother had laughed, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, and assured him that ghosts weren’t real. That hand was tender and warm and… was that a memory on his shoulder now? He turned to his right almost expecting to see her in her yellow sundress and her bright, warm smile. She was nowhere to be found, but there seemed to be a breath of air that smelled like her. 

His stomach ached as tears pooled in his eyes, remembering her tall, limber form, the hot cocoa eyes and jingle-bell laugh that warmed his insides. Why was the world so cruel a place to take her? Tears poured down her face. He was sad, he was… he felt his fists clench at his sides, and as his knuckles bared like the teeth of a chainsaw, he remembered. The blood on his stinging fists, the sirens in the distance, the satisfied smile that crept across his face, the cuffs that chafed comfortably around his wrists, the emptiness as he stared at a woman who had looked remarkably like his own mother sobbing at the witness stand as she called him every name in the book. Had he smiled? The nausea reappeared, a sickness that felt like regret, but how could that be? He had no regret, even as they pressed that fluid into his arm, they couldn’t steal his spirits from him. So why now?

He blinked, and suddenly he saw the witness woman’s face again, the blonde hair and blue eyes and pantsuit that faded slowly as the light reentered his irises, and for just a moment, she was a simulacrum of his mother, sobbing as she stared disappointedly at her son in the defendant’s chair. 

“Harry, how could you?” she whispered in a voice like too much candy on Halloween night. 

His stomach ached as his eyes fluttered open to see the lake once again. How…? He tried to turn back around, but the roots beneath his feet wrenched him back into place. He tried to close his eyes and cover his ears, but somehow the roots got to those too, prying his eyelids open and clamping his arms to his sides. He thrashed around. This was worse than handcuffs, worse than a prison cell. He screamed, but it seemed that no one but the lake was there to hear him. 

He knew what happened next. This memory was too close to his heart to ever be forgotten. She would walk along the shoreline in her yellow sundress and smile, a little boy trailing too far behind. She would dance to the edge of the lake, whose waters wore a grin unmistakably regretless, and she would stare at her own reflection as it darkened, as it merged with her form, as it disappeared beneath the surface. 

Harrison thrashed in the roots, but he was stuck. And when this was all over, when he had watched her disappear beneath those dark, evil waters all over again, what would happen then? A small part of him knew the answer. A small part of him could already imagine waking up on the red bench again, running his fingers over the lacquered seat…

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Please visit Sonia on her blog:  https://likechickenscratch.wordpress.com/