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D. A. Ratliff: Sands of Time

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.

Sands of Time

 D. A. Ratliff

Closed.

The orange and white barrier stood like a sentinel across the asphalt, taunting her. The project was supposed to be hers, but her brother had tried to weasel his way into taking over. Asha Elliot Patterson couldn’t help the delays brought on by two hurricanes within six weeks, or Martin having to travel to Australia because his mother was ill. She shuddered. That was enough, and now this.

A strong breeze off the Gulf of Mexico blew the pristine white sand across the road and her face. Tiny shards stung her skin. She took a last look at the dunes before returning to the rental car.

Time to deal with the reason she was here.

~~~

She hated funerals.

Funerals should honor the dead, but that was not her experience. Every funeral she had attended concerned the living. Giving the living closure, her mother always said. Well, no closure possible for this dead man—not for her father.

The service concluded, Minister Andrew DeLong, a long-time friend of the family, escorted the family from the Mount James Presbyterian Church to wait by the hearse. As she watched the good reverend fawn all over the widow, her father’s third wife, Asha suspected he along with half the men in Palm Marsh would be calling to offer their condolences.

After the pallbearer loaded the casket, she followed her mother, brother, his wife, and stepsister to a waiting limo. They were the last people she wanted to ride with, preferring to ride with her mother alone.

She hooked her seatbelt and counted the seconds until her brother opened his mouth. She got to five.

“I know why you are here.” 

She glared at them. “Oh, do tell. I thought I was here for Dad’s funeral.”

Michael Elliot’s nostrils flared. “You’re here for the will.” He sat back and laughed. “Nothing to worry about here. You get nothing.”

Asha clenched her hands, her short, manicured nails digging into her palms. “Not the appropriate place to discuss this.”

Her mother, Marjorie, snapped at him. “Be quiet, Michael. We do not need to hear your mouth right now.”

“I have every right to say what I think. Might as well face it, Asha. He knew I was the best person to run the project. He was just toying with you to keep you happy.”

Michael’s wife, Chandra, grabbed his forearm. “Michael, stop. Asha is right. This is not the place.”

Asha’s lips curled ever so slightly at the angry glance her brother gave his wife. Her brother didn’t like anyone to talk back to him. She expected Chandra would receive his wrath later.

She glanced at her stepsister, Leah, wondering what was going on in the younger gal’s head. She sat quietly, her eyes closed, earbuds in her ears as a faint echo of music drifted through the car. A junior in college, she was rarely home. Her mother, who was her father’s second wife, had died unexpectedly from cancer. They were close when Leah was young but grew apart after Leah’s mother’s death, and their dad remarried for the third time.

The cemetery was a short drive from the church, and thankfully, the graveside service was brief. After returning to the house, Asha hurried upstairs to avoid the crush of people coming by to offer condolences and eat free food and drink free booze. Not her idea of a good time.

She kicked off her heels and dropped across the bed, her head spinning. There was something to Michael’s snarky comment that she was only here for the will. She would admit that the contents of the will held her interest, but she genuinely loved her father and was devastated by his death.

The call played over and over in her head. Her mother broke the news. “Asha, so sorry to have to tell you, but your father is gone. He was playing tennis with Jasper and keeled over with a heart attack.”

As her mother spoke, she remained in control but collapsed onto the floor, sobbing after her mother hung up. When she composed herself and rose from the floor, she vowed no more tears. There was work to do.

A knock on the door startled her. She yelled, come in, and her mother entered.

“I thought you might be hiding. It would help if you came down. People are asking about you.”

Asha swung her legs over the bedside. “I know, just wanted a moment to think.”

“I figured you were hiding. You never did like big gatherings. But I need you. Michael is acting like a jerk.”

Asha’s tone was sharp. “When isn’t he?”

A deep sigh came from her mother. “I know, never understood him. I was just talking to him about the condo, asking if he thought your dad had made provisions to pay it off. He just wandered away, no interest at all in anything about me.”

Asha retrieved her shoes and slipped them on. “Since when did that self-centered jerk care about anything but himself?”

“Sad to say, but never.”

“Exactly. Let’s get this over with.”

People crowded the main floor, spilling out onto the large patio that led to the pool. Asha knew most of them and didn’t care for most of them. Society and yacht club members were competing for the spotlight. It was comical, and right in the center vying for the most attention was her brother.

“I am telling you. You need to invest in the project. It’s going to be a moneymaker.”

Asha recognized the man Michael was talking to, Dan Colton, a banker. Colton seemed unconvinced. “What makes you so certain that your father is leaving control of the project to you?”

“Because he knows I’ll make a success of it.”

“But you’re in insurance, granted, quite successful, but what do you know about developing a project as large as this. This is practically a mini-city on the barrier island. Isn’t your sister a developer? Partnered with her husband?”

Asha watched her brother’s rage rise. He attempted to tamp his anger down, but it was evident in his pinched face. “That bastard isn’t even here. Besides, they only have a couple of projects in Europe. What would he know about Florida?”

“A lot more than you.”

Michael whirled at his sister’s voice. “You still think Dad is going to hand you the project, don’t you?”

Colton nodded to her behind her brother’s back and walked away. She shook her head. “I don’t know what Dad is planning on doing, but I will tell you this. If the family company is going to succeed, it won’t be with you.”

“I know more about business than you will ever know.”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that. You’re lucky your partner in the insurance company is the hard worker. He used the money granddad left you to make money for both of you.”

He leaned toward her, eyes blazing. “You are a bitch. You know that.”

“And you are a self-centered fool.” She spun away from him as he muttered an insult. She ignored it. That always made him angry.

~~~

She entered Jasper L. Worthington’s law office, located on the twentieth floor of the tallest building in Palm Marsh, Florida. Her father’s attorney since their twenties, Jasper was also his best friend. Asha walked into the firm’s lobby to find she was the first to arrive for the reading of the will. The receptionist told her that Worthington was waiting for her.

Jasper, trim, vigorous, and looking twenty years younger than he was, rose and rushed to greet her. “You look wonderful—more beautiful than the last time I saw you.”

“Thanks.”

I am so sorry about your dad’s death. Daniel Elliot was my oldest friend.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you were with him.”

“Have a seat. Tell me, how is Martin? I was surprised he wasn’t with you.”

“He had just flown home to Melbourne a day before the call came. We—no, I decided that he needed to stay, just too far to come, and his mother is having surgery tomorrow. Best that he stayed put.”

“I understand. Hope to get to see him next time you are here.” He motioned for her to sit as he returned to his chair.

“Asha, I want to tell you something. I am overstepping my bounds here, but your father changed his will from what I feel you might be expecting. I wanted you to be aware before I reveal the contents.”

“Are you saying he left me out?”

“No, not at all, but well, I shouldn’t say more, so I won’t.”

His phone buzzed, and his assistant announced, “The rest of the family has arrived.”

He rose again. “Let’s go.”

As they walked into the large conference room, Asha was aware of the daggers thrown at her from Michael’s eyes. She took a seat next to her mother.

Jasper read through the first part of the will dealing with cash settlements. Asha was pleased that the new widow was getting nothing beyond the pre-nuptial agreement she had signed and no one else knew existed.

What came next shocked them all.

Jasper raised his eyes, glancing at them, then read a handwritten part of the will.

“My death was inevitable. No, not because everyone dies, but because six months ago, my doctor informed me that I had irreparable heart damage and had only a few months to live. I chose to live life fully and not look back. However, I have learned some lessons in life over the years, and I need to rectify my mistakes.

Therefore, I instructed my attorney, Jasper L. Worthington, to update my will. I have done so because I am unhappy with the way things are within the family, and I want to correct my errors in judgment.

To my first wife, Marjorie Stone Elliot, I leave my apologies. I was young, foolish, and far too immature, and I was not the husband you deserved. I loved you, but I wasn’t good enough for you. I divorced you, threw money at you, and left you to raise our children with little help from me. That Asha seems to love me is a miracle that I treasure.

I would like to make that up to you by leaving the house and estate to you. I have set up a trust to pay all taxes and the staff for the length of your life. Any monies left will go to Michael, Asha, and Leah equally.

Marjorie gasped and grabbed Asha’s hand.

The only stipulation is that Leah remains living in the house, or the guest house if she prefers, until she chooses to leave.

Michael and Asha. I know there is considerable strife between you, and frankly, I understand. Michael is a disappointment. However, he is an adequate businessman, and Asha, you have shown an aptitude for the business that made millions of dollars for me.

Therefore, as I have held one hundred percent of the stock in Elliot Development, the company stock distribution is as follows:

Michael Daniel Elliot Thirty-five shares 

Asha Elliot Patterson Thirty-five shares 

Marjorie Stone Elliot Ten shares

Leah Alexandria Elliot Ten shares

Chandra Martin Elliot Ten shares

Asha glanced at her brother, who was grinning from ear to ear and staring at her. No doubt he thought his wife and their mother would support him. And she had no doubt he was right.

Jasper continued.

As Elliot Development’s counsel, Jasper Worthington has ordered the Board of Directors to convene in two weeks. He will call for a vote to place control of Elliot Development in the highest stockholder’s hands. Choose wisely.

One more thing. Leah, I did love your mother, and her death was a loss to me. You mean as much to me as Asha and Michael. Please do not ever forget that.

Lastly, take care of my business. I tried to be a fair man. I hope you will remember me that way.

As Jasper folded the will and returned it to the envelope, Michael stood up.

“Ah… Asha… just a formality. I expect you to hand over your shares to me. You have lost. Mom and Chandra will follow me, and Leah knows who will be here for her, and it won’t be you.”

Marjorie rose from her chair. “Michael, do not taunt your sister with such nonsense. You have a lot to prove to me that you can run this business, and at the moment, I doubt you can.”

Her son stepped toward her. “Who was here when you needed something, me? Not Asha, she was running around Europe with that no-good foreigner, playing at putting up chalets in Switzerland. What crap.”

Asha stepped between her mother and brother. “You will not talk to Mom this way, and you will not talk about my husband that way. He has nothing to prove to you. You have been and always will be a self-centered idiot. All you care about is yourself and what others think of you. I’m done with you. Whatever happens, this company better be in my hands because you are shallow, useless, and always looking for attention. You will get none from me.”

Michael’s face reddened, and he grabbed Chandra’s hand and stalked out the door, tugging her along. As she left, Chandra looked over her shoulder at Asha, a pained look in her eyes.

~~~

Asha spent most of the two weeks before the board meeting tying up loose ends on the Switzerland project while her husband continued to stay with his ill mother. Once again, on her way to the house, she stopped at the development entrance.

As she leaned on the road-closed barrier, she realized her father had purposely slowed work down on his dream because he knew he was dying. But why? Did he want her to take the reins or for Michael to run the company, and why set up a boardroom fight between them? She supposed she would never know, but she would be incredibly surprised if she gained control of the company. Michael was right. Chandra would side with her husband, and she wasn’t sure about her mother. He was also right that he had stayed in Palm Marsh while she followed Martin to his latest project in Europe. And Leah? No idea what she would do. So, a crapshoot and not going to win this one.

Arriving at the house, only the staff met her at the door, telling her dinner would be at seven p.m. She had stretched out on the bed, trying to relax when a soft knock on her door roused her. Opening the door, she found her mother, Chandra, and Leah.

Her mother smiled. “May we come in, Asha? We need to talk.”

 ~~~

Asha entered the boardroom with her mother and Leah. Chandra had arrived with Michael. Jasper, who was counsel to the Board of Directors, addressed the group.

“As you know, this board meeting has been called to determine who will replace Daniel Elliot as Chairman of the Board. Those of you currently sitting on the Board have received the directive that Mr. Elliot left requesting the Board to approve the highest stockholder in the company to become the CEO and Chairman of the Board. Are there any questions regarding this procedure?”

No one spoke, and Jasper directed the Board Secretary to call for stock pledges.

A thin, bespectacled man rose and began to call their names. First, Michael responded, retaining his shares. The secretary turned to Asha and she kept her thirty-five shares. Then all eyes turned to the three women who held the other shares.

The secretary spoke.

“Marjorie Stone Elliot, how do you pledge your stock.”

“I pledge my ten shares to,” she paused, her eyes on her son, “my daughter, Asha Patterson.”

Michael’s reaction was visceral. His eyes narrowed, and his fists, resting on the table, clenched.

The secretary asked again.

“Leah Alexandria Elliot, how do you pledge your ten shares?”

Leah was stoic as she replied. “I pledge my ten shares to my sister, Asha Peterson.”

Michael rose so quickly, the heavy leather chair rocked. “Well, I see where your loyalty lies. Did my dear sister bribe you? Why else would you turn on me?”

Jasper ordered Michael to be quiet, and the secretary to continue. He asked Chandra the same question.

Chandra stood. Her eyes bored into her husband’s. “You have controlled our lives too long. We have had enough of your bullying and your lies and your self-centered attitude.” She slipped an envelope from her purse and placed it in front of him. “Those are divorce papers.” She turned to the secretary. “I pledge my ten shares to Asha Peterson.”

~~~

Asha opened the letter Jasper had given her right after the board meeting adjourned and the screaming fit from her brother ended. She had read it a thousand times in the month since the meeting, but never tired of hearing her father’s word echo in her mind.

My dearest Asha,

Forgive me for putting you through this. I had seen the damage Michael had done to his relationships. Chandra confided in me that she wanted to leave him. He and Leah never got along, and your mother always felt estranged from him. She once told me that he looked too much like me for her to feel empathy for him. The fact is Michael is not suited to lead, as his partner will tell you.

I suspected that when given the opportunity these women would stand with you. If you are reading this, I was correct. This is your project now, and with Martin at your side, it will be a success. Think about me as you make my dream come true.

Brushing tears from her eyes, she looked at Martin and nodded. He pulled the road-closed barriers aside and waved the convoy of graders and trucks through.

The road was open. 

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

Calliope NJo: Cory

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.

Cory

Calliope Njo

Hmm, Road Closed barrier up ahead. I turned off my Harley and looked around a bit. No big piles of sand and it was too early for snow. That didn’t come until about Thanksgiving. No big equipment either. It had to be his idea.

As much as I loved my bike, I didn’t want to take a chance with her either. I walked her over to the side and hid her between two hills of dirt. I left my gloves on but took my helmet off.

I kept low while running to the edge. A large facility lay beneath me. No personnel. There should at least be half an army down there and nobody around. Something seemed funny about all of this.

I hung around waiting to see any sign of people, but nothing, until two large trucks came in and stopped. The back opened up and soldiers poured out. The last man to exit was good ol’ Uncle Xander.

I went back to my Harley and made it back to my lab. The military had trained specialists in every field one could think of including computers. If one was foolish enough, one could try to penetrate the defenses.

I told someone I thought I could trust about my accomplishment only to have it backfire. My program that I worked on for years, night and day, had come about. I was so excited it was done at last. I bragged about it to the wrong person, and after that, it was gone. Who else could’ve done it since that person was the only one I told? The person I told was my own uncle. I didn’t even tell my own Mom.

Yeah yeah, sure sure, someone hacked my system and got it that way. It’s done all the time and they happened to get lucky. Ransomware thieves and all that. It was all too coincidental. It had to be him. I had enough protection on my systems to keep out everyone. When they do penetrate, I would’ve been notified. He got lucky when I turned my back on him. I still didn’t know who the stupid one was.

I got onto my computer and through a series of misdirections I got into their systems. That wouldn’t last long so I had to act fast. They would’ve erased me from their files by now but I had to try. By the off chance I logged in, and sure enough I couldn’t get in.

Plan B included going in through the mundane files such as keeping track of electricity output, inventory, and assignments. It wasn’t as secure which could work in my favor. After all, did they need to secure the fact that they had one hundred rolls of toilet paper or that ten people must’ve used a blow dryer?

A small base, small system, not that much security, and I got in. It set off an alarm which told them someone got in and I had thirty seconds in which to get out and erase my presence. Not a problem. Download completed in ten. Insert program to erase my presence commenced. A smiley face to make them happy.

Got in. Got my prize. Got out. So simple anybody could’ve done it. I wished it was that easy. Half of me celebrated while the other half waited for the inevitable knock on my door.

While I waited, I went through the program I retrieved. The bastards changed everything about it. Not a single original string existed. I got out my notes and started from scratch.

One of my mentors told me once, equipment may not always be available. Memory may not always be reliable. Computers can be stolen. As long as good notes existed, somewhere, a program can always be rewritten and started over again.

Before I began this project on my own, Cory and I had already begun setting plans and getting the baseline work of this done. If it wasn’t for her generous father’s financial backing and contacts it wouldn’t have been possible.

I put the program in another mainframe that had the necessary storage. I made a solemn vow not to tell anyone about this. I learned my lesson to not trust anyone ever again.

It had been five days since I penetrated their computer systems. Either they couldn’t find me or they gave up. On the other hand it was the military. It was only a matter of time.

In the meanwhile, I turned it on and waited. “Up and at ’em, Cory.” Then I saw that face and smiled.

It seemed to take an eternity before I got the invalid response message. The screen turned blue before blacking out on me. There must’ve been something I missed.

I erased everything and input the program one piece of data at a time. I must’ve been too in a hurry the first time. I caught several missing pieces of data I didn’t remember inputting.

I stood up and went to the door. I had a feeling. “Well. Just as I thought. Uncle Xander. What a surprise it took you this long. What happened? You lost the map and couldn’t tell right from left?”

His face turned red. “That’s enough, young lady. You will treat me with respect. I am a man.”

“Respect given is respect earned. Waddaya want anyway? I’m busy.”

“I want the Computerized Operational Regional Device returned to me.”

I had no idea where he came up with that. I laughed. It was the funniest thing I heard. I stepped outside and shut the door behind me. “What was that again? I must’ve had a brain freeze or something. I could’ve sworn you said Computerized Operational Regional Device.”

“Yes. Yes, I did. I designed it myself. As any man can since men are more mechanical than any woman. Hmph.”

A deep breath inhale to prevent the spew of cuss words from coming out of my mouth. “Hmm. So I am to believe that one, men are mechanical. Two, that women only exist.”

“There are only three things any woman should remember. Any woman of good upbringing by a good father would’ve taught their daughters those things. I do not need to repeat them as I taught them to you.”

I took a quick glance at the soldiers around him and their jaws tightened as their eyes narrowed. There were a couple who shrugged.

“Well, dear Uncle Xander, your ideas are archaic at best. I’ll leave it at that. As for what you came here for, you haven’t answered me.”

“Yes, I did answer that. A very good fellow will be leading my unit of good men. A good man named Colonel Edgar. He and I will get along very well. He has a good household with a woman by his side and two fine kids. Not one of those mixed-up families.”

How many times could I count to thirty? Before I had a chance of further contemplation, a military vehicle pulled into the parking lot. A black woman dressed in camouflage stepped out. Tight bun on the head too.

I laughed at Uncle Xander’s expression of wide eyes as his mouth dropped open. That alone told me he made everything up and never looked to see who was attached to the name. Was it too early for that feeling of satisfaction?

I tried to suppress laughing any more when she turned to me. “Good day. I am Lieutenant Colonel Wilma Edgar. You may address me as Colonel Edgar. If we could step to the side so that we may discuss your involvement.”

“Yes, Colonel Edgar.” I nodded my head and followed her a few steps away from the others. I glanced to see Uncle Xander try to side-step his way closer. Colonel Edgar looked at him and he stopped.

I told her everything that happened and she kept smiling.

“That’s where we are right now.” It felt like a bomb was about to fall.

She nodded and raised that eyebrow. “Do you have proof?”

So much for the bomb but I could still feel it. “I won’t show you the notes. However, I have personal vlogs that you could watch.”

“I will take the personal vlogs and the notes.”

I opened my mouth but she put up her hand.

She took one step closer to me. “I have enough background knowledge to know what I am looking at. I assure you, they will be returned intact. Everything given to me will be seen by me and no one else.”

She could be one of Uncle Xander’s friends but I doubted that. She was a strong independent Black woman. “All right. Just know that the last time I did this, the reason why he’s here, is because I trusted him.”

“I understand.”

I watched her and she didn’t shift. She stood there smiling as she looked at me.

“It’s going to take a few people to carry the boxes.”

She turned towards the other men and motioned them over. “Follow Ms. Maguire. She will point to where some boxes are located. Load the vehicles with the boxes. Do not look at them. Do not drop them. Do not pick off the tape. Do not tear the box tabs. Am I making myself clear?”

They stood at attention and saluted. “Yes, Colonel Edgar.”

“Carry out your orders.”

They followed right behind me to where I kept everything. After I pointed to them, they took them out one by one. I remembered my declaration but I didn’t have a choice. I only hoped it wouldn’t backfire again.

When I came out, Colonel Edgar gave Uncle Xander a going over and yelled at him a few times. Something about being too old and overweight. After everything and everyone was loaded up, they left.

I closed my eyes and fluttered my lips as a silent prayer went up. There were backup notes I had stored away. Not as clean as the ones I gave the colonel but they were the same ones. I went back to reprogramming to be sure Cory worked the way she was supposed to. I don’t think I even slept during that time.

About to try Cory again, someone knocked on my door and I opened it. “Colonel Edgar.”

“Yes, ma’am. May I come in?”

I opened the door wider to let her in. “Is there something wrong?”

“I have a huge apology to make. I am so sorry that I didn’t look further into this when I should have. The other thing is that I admire your dedication. It took you so long to fulfill a promise only for someone to take it away. That wasn’t right.”

I was confused. “Ma’am?”

“I’m talking about Cory. Xander Maguire will be disciplined by the military to its full extent. All of your notes and all of your vlogs are sitting outside waiting for your go-ahead. They will return them as they found them. I promise that nothing was copied.”

“Uh. OK. Thank you.” Did I need to feel relieved?

She got on her com device and told them to bring the boxes in. I opened the door and they did return them. I followed them and they put the boxes down where they were before.

“As for you, young lady, you have some explaining to do. Every part of the army database is secure, but it seems someone found a way in. You are going to come with me and show me exactly how you did it. That way we can prevent something like this from happening again.”

“OK. Now?”

“Now.”

“OK. Give me a couple minutes and I will be back.” I ran inside to double check everything. Computer off and rough notes put away, I grabbed my purse and my keys and came back.

We got into the vehicle but she didn’t turn the key. “What got your attention to begin with?”

“Well, I was out for a drive on my Harley one day and was going to visit someone. I saw a road-closure sign and decided to investigate. I didn’t see any sand dunes and it’s too early for snow. No construction equipment either.”

She turned towards me and smiled. She turned the key and drove out. We got to the same road-closure signs and she moved them aside. She got back in and we kept going to the base.

Show-and-tell time once I got there. She laughed through most of it because it seems she warned her superiors of such a thing but they never did anything about it. Now that proof existed, the higher-ups didn’t have a choice any more.

I got a bite to eat and returned to my warehouse. I started Cory up again. I had confidence all the pit holes were filled, so she should run as I thought she would. Yes, I had confidence, but certainty didn’t exist. Not yet.

I waited for the smiley face to appear. “Up and at ’em, Cory.”

“Please input security code.”

So far so good. “Cory Ellen North. Two. One. Five. Waldo. Mr. Whiskers.” The dog loved me but that cat hated me.

“Security code accepted.”

Yahoo!

The next thing to do would be to check if the rest of her worked. “What’s the weather today?”

“It is sixty degrees Fahrenheit with winds out of the northwest at ten miles-an-hour. The sun rose at six o’clock and will set and six-thirty tonight.” It smirked. “Really, after all of that, that was the best you could do?”

I laughed. “It’s good to have you back. Your base programming is set. You will eventually be running the information systems in a medical facility. Not yet though. When you were first conceived, talking computers were an idea. It’s too normal now. I need to take you beyond that. For all intents and purposes though, you are set and ready to experience the world.”

I sat back and smiled. Memories of Cory talking forever about how cool it would be if it was a mother computer in a medical facility instead of a car. She loved that show and wanted to do what I accomplished. Staff could concentrate on the patients instead of hackers and lost paperwork.

“I am Cory. I exist in this computer as an aid in the medical system. My duty will be to be sure all systems are secure against intrusion. To provide comfort and care to the patients. To have the database to store medical information for ready reference.”

I smiled. Things were good. Hmm. “All right. What’s my financial worth?”

“Processing. You have a two-thousand-dollar credit limit, no outstanding bills. Five thousand six hundred dollars and thirty-five cents in your checking account. Two hundred fifty thousand dollars in an annuity.”

I laughed. “All right. All right. I get the picture. You know everything.”

“Yes. There should never be any question. Your net worth is two point seventy-five million dollars.”

No. There was never any question. I had a feeling this was going to be a long and interesting journey. Maybe after all of this, I could learn to trust again. “All right. Let’s see where we can make some changes. Shall we?”

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

Felice Yu: How a Marlin Died in a Car Crash

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.

How a Marlin Died in a Car Crash

Felice Yu

“Road closed? What the hell do they mean by ‘road closed’?”

I squinted my eyes against the incandescent sunlight at the barricade sitting in the middle of the road. ROAD CLOSED, said the big sign, ROAD CLOSED. The black letters flashed in our faces with an air of triumphant brusqueness.

“It means we can’t go this way.”

“To hell with that rubbish! We spent an entire hour driving down here and then they’re telling us we can’t go this way?”

I shrugged, pushing my glasses back up my nose.

“Not like you can do anything about it.”

Mike swore. He rolled down the window of the driver’s seat, and a wave of suffocating hot air immediately swept in. He stood up wobbly and stuck his torso out, and went staring at the white-and-orange shape of the barricade while half-dangling out of the car, both hands off the steering wheel and shielding over his eyes.

That’s the thing about Michael I couldn’t help hating. To get his left knee away from the shift lever, I said: “At least we’d be back before the bell rings.”

He swivelled around to stare at me, with the kind of stare like he had never seen me before; then without a warning, in a quick and fluent movement, Mike pulled open the door and sprang out of the car.

“Sprang” wasn’t actually the right word. Mike was a tall guy, with broad shoulders and long arms and legs, which meant he had to virtually twist and wriggle himself out from behind the dashboard like a squid, and he reminded me of those acrobat people on TV who would fold themselves into small boxes and then got themselves out again with great pains. The sun was beating down boilingly. In just a matter of minutes, the back of his shirt was already soaked dark with sweat. 

He stood there, watching the barricade as if he were watching a prey.

The barricade returned his gaze lazily.

So? It seemed to be asking, in its lazy, drawling tone.

Mike stood there staring, sweating under the blazing sun.

So? asked the barricade. What now?

Mike went on staring. Then all of a sudden, his arms shot out. 

I gasped, and hastily dove for the window button — too late; in a flash, Mike had already stood up again. In his long arms he held the orange-and-white piece and was dragging it towards the cliffside. I saw him shift his weight, then there was the flying shape —

Down flew the barricade, tumbling and turning in midair, still determined on finishing its third somersault before it went disappearing down into the depth, trailing behind a series of clashes and crashes.

I looked up. Mike was striding back towards the car; he got back into the driver’s seat without saying anything, and slammed the door shut. With a roar, he started the engine, and we shot forward like a bullet. Soon we had thrown the spot behind, muggy air whizzed into a hot wind billowing in our ears; beside the road, bushes on the cliffs melted into a whirling shade of green overhead.

“You’re going to get us into big trouble.” I twisted around to look at where the barricade’s last stout figure had been.

Mike seemed like he didn’t hear a thing. “So,” he said loudly against the wind. “I was just saying, I don’t think that Simon has anything to do with it. It was all made up by them, see? They were just trying to get on my nerves.”

I was still looking back.

“If you’ve seen how Simon —”

“Simon! Simon! All you talked about was Simon on the way! If you really think it was a trick, would you just stop bringing him up!”

Mike rolled his window up. Silence fell, with the sultriness beating soundlessly outside.

“Even if he was the one who ratted us out, I don’t really care.”

“Drop it.”

“And why’s that?” he suddenly flared up. “This is precisely how they are pulling it off, bud, that’s the trick. You don’t talk about it, I don’t talk about it, then nobody’s ever going to talk, and nothing’s ever going to change. Do you know what they threatened me with to make me drop the thing? They threatened me, bud, they threatened. And I bet they gave you a nice little talk, too, didn’t they? Go on, tell us about it, tell us how they ‘ended this business’.”

Unwilling as I was, I still grunted: “That they’ll give me two more demerits if there’s another word.”

“And it sure worked on you.”

I felt blood rushing into my face. I was about to open my mouth and retort when I found myself actually with nothing to retort at. I had indeed been petrified when I found myself, all alone, in that dingy office facing all those grim faces towering over me; but Mike — it didn’t work on him, I saw him enter that door with his broad shoulders ever so straight, and saw him come out of there with those shoulders straighter still. Nothing ever worked on him.

“Bud,” he went on. “You know why we go to that place every day?”

I pondered quietly for some seconds. “Where else should we go every day?” 

“Now you’re acting like a ridiculous lost-cause. Didn’t we just ‘ungo’ there about an hour before? What I meant was why should we go there? Why do we go there?”

I hesitated. “Learning is a privilege.”

“A privilege only counts when you can enjoy it,” Mike said solemnly. “We don’t call being locked up in the same building hours after hours spending time over stuff that only turns out to be rubbish a privilege; it’s a prison.”

The car speeded past the green shades and came out into a great patch of blazing brightness. The cliffs on our left side grew steep and bare; rocks protruded out like bones of a rough sculpture. Yellow dust swarmed and whirled as our car brought in the billowing wind. I had my eyes fixed on the cliffside; that was another thing I hated about him, him talking in that way. A wild idea came to me.

“I swear I saw Simon handing them the note, he must’ve picked it up, he was sitting right next to you.” 

Mike dove willingly at once into the subject. “But why should he? I’ve never pissed him off.”

“You don’t understand. Exams are awfully important for him — for us.”

Mike laughed. A clear, hearty laugh that sounded like a steamboat’s whistle.

“Just typical!” he chortled. “You know, I’ve always been wondering, if this business is all about grades and medals, why don’t they just go to a dog show for heaven’s sake? Dogs won’t swear at you, won’t fall asleep in classes, won’t forget their homework, won’t even have parents to blackmail and can be beaten up whenever you like. And you know what’s the best part? The dogs will still love you.”

He sighed indignantly and yanked at the steering wheel, making the tires screech.

“I don’t want to be like them when I grow old,” he said. His eyes were fixed tight on the road ahead but seemed not to be taking it in. “Them — they’re all dead inside. All they have in mind is exams and salaries and taxes, and whether our neckties are precisely three inches above our belts.” He snorted. “Some privilege. Takes all they have to make us stick to it, though. But they just hate their job as much as we do.”

I shifted in my seat.

“So why didn’t you get one of your pals, then?”

Mike looked at me in bewilderment. “What about them?”

“You could’ve had any of your pals sitting in this seat right now,” I explained. “Or even the whole lot of them, and you could’ve gone on chatting about baseball, and Simon, and social issues or whatever — but you picked me.”

“Because you did me a favour.”

“Only once. And I thought you didn’t like us eggheads.”

The look on his face turned into genuine astonishment. Then he laughed. “Look here, bud, you’ve got a big brain, so what? That’s cool. All I’m saying is, we shouldn’t be doing stuff because we’re told to. But because we like to. Now, you like studying, you like scoring A for all your exams, no? Then that’s cool.” His face darkened a bit, and there appeared a trace of lost in his voice. “But I know I’m not made for this, I’ve known it for a good while. I’m meant for something else.”

Silence. The car swept by the rolling yellow dust; under the bleaching sun the road stretched without an end.

Suddenly Mike laughed. That clear, hearty laugh. “Hey, ain’t this sick?” He slapped a khaki-trousered knee. “We’re just like the old man in that book you mentioned in class, aren’t we? The old guy who fought for a big fish.”

“The Old Man and the Sea.”

“That one.”

 Mike let go of the steering wheel and threw his arms into the air, letting out a great hooting. The car wheels spun at once like marbles on a tin plate towards the rocky cliffside. At the last minute, Mike pulled the brakes and off went a long sharp screeching. A dull thump! Yellow dirt and pieces of rock came raining down on our roof in loud clatters. The car shrieked to a halt, dragged a huge savage ninety-degree turn with two tires clean off the ground, then landed back onto the ground with an enormous crash. Before we had fully touched the ground, Mike already stepped on the accelerator, and off we shot like a bullet again. As I straightened my glasses back onto my nose, I caught a glimpse of our left rear mirror dangling behind on a badly sprained neck.

“Ha!” I shouted. Mike grinned at me, and we burst into shared laughter.

“Look at that!” He pointed with an outstretched arm.

We had made a turn, and suddenly the patch of dazzling blue came stretching out on either side of the highway. Mike whooped and steered the car until it was dangerously balancing on the very edge of the road; he rolled down the windows. Warm, salty air patted on our faces. I unbuckled my safety belt and leaned out.

The ocean expanded endlessly below, the shimmering blueness piercing into our eyes, as clear as the great sky above, a great sheet of shiny, fumbling floor. I could see little furls of snowy waves appearing and disappearing here and there, twirling along with the countless little light pieces that danced on the surface.

“And who said getting out was a bad idea?” Mike beat the writhing air with a fist.

Suddenly, like thunders shooting out of the water, out came a dozen huge shapes plunging into the air — they were big, bigger than the length of our small car, black silhouettes that shimmered against the sunlight, moving fast like knives slicing through the sky, piercing their way through with those sharp lances protruding out from their upper jaws. In a split second, they had soared across the highway in a sleek movement and dove back into the tumbling waves. Cool beads of water sprinkled down onto our windshield.

“We’ll go closer!”

Mike stepped on the accelerator. “More!” I cried, pointing below.

Another burst of shimmering shapes came pelting into the air. The wind was roaring in my ears, the speeding car blurring the cliffs, the shores, the big clear blue — my heart was pounding; I had recognized what the fish were, they were marlins, giant Pacific Blue marlins with bodies splashed with silvery stripes like garments of watery stars. They were side by side with us, then over us, their strong, powerful bodies flying through the diamond-clear sky.

 “I don’t blame Simon for snitching,” I suddenly shouted, the wind pouring into my mouth. “You die, too, in that place if you don’t get yourself some excitement quickly.”

Mike laughed; his voice, too, was parse by the wind. “And when you think of all those poor souls still stuck in there trying to distinguish different formats of research papers!”

The marlins came one after the other; there seemed to be no stop of it, splashing snowy white foam high into the sky — then it was over. As abruptly as they came, they were gone. Back down the tumbling waves as if they had never crossed our eyes.

The air fell quiet. Left only the low roaring of our engine, the blowing wind, and the soft patting of the blue waves.

WHAM! 

The car went tumbling forward, we were flying through the air with the front wheels spinning uncontrollably; there were screams, screams I didn’t recognize as mine, the screams mingled with the growling of the engine, everything was moving like mad in a whirl of reeling, sickening pool of light; in a frantic, weltering glimpse I saw Mike yanking up the parking brake —

A heavy bang! I was tossed violently onto the door, the car gave a last roar, then it finally silenced.

Smoke was floating in the air, like the strong stink of burnt tires. I opened my eyes.

The first thing I noticed was that I was still alive; then I saw the twisted guardrail, with the rear of our car stuck in it, punching it into a horseshoe shape. Finally, I saw the red dots.

“Mike!”

“Something — from behind — what was it?”

I spun around, tracing the splashes of redness covering the windshield, the seats, and Mike’s stunned face; he followed my gaze and looked around, too.

On the far side of the road, where the redness was accumulating like a small pool, lay a misshaped black body.

There was a moment of horrified silence.

I turned to look at Mike, saw him staring back at me, his face pale and his mouth hanging open.

“Quick,” he finally croaked.

We got out of the car. There were long charred marks from our tires along with the dark red streaks splashed across the asphalt. The redness was like claw marks, pawing wounds that leered from the ground. 

And just a few feet away, there lay the body. A gap was to be seen on one side of its stomach which almost sliced the creature clean in two — we could see the bones broken beneath. Stuff that was supposed to be inside now scattered all about in a gruesome, horrid trail. 

I felt my head spinning. The heat seemed to be beating down once again. 

“What should we do?”

Mike didn’t answer, he only stared. His big shoulders were hunched.

“Mike, what do you think we should do?”

He looked up at me, his eyes blank. Then, slowly he turned, and to my surprise, started back towards the car.

“Mike!”

“It wasn’t our fault!” He spun around, his face fiercer than the blazing sun. “It hit us. It hit us from behind, we didn’t know. It should have watched out.” 

I gaped at him. “And how was it supposed to know a car would come pelting into its way? That’s what the barricade was for. I told you you would get us into trouble!”

Mike wasn’t looking at me. He didn’t seem to be looking at anything.

“We can’t do anything about it anyway.”

“You killed it!” I screamed. “Don’t you get it? You just killed it!”

 Mike turned away.

“I guess that’s what the barricade’s for,” he muttered. And then he laughed, that clear laugh that rang in the sky. “Well, that’s extraordinary!” Bending down, he inspected the spluttered blots covered all over the car. “I think I’ll leave those there, it’s gonna be quite a laugh when —”

“Have you had enough?”

He looked up, and I was glad there was now a startled look on his face.

“Bud, what —?”

“We’ve seen the ocean, we’ve stolen the car, and we’ve killed a creature alive, now what else do you want?”

The smile was gone. “So now you’re playing the traitor, is that it? After all we’ve been through?”

“You just killed a living thing.”

“You are a coward.”

I was quiet for some seconds. When I spoke again, it was all I could do to keep my voice from shaking. “And you are a fool who would steal a car and not even know where he’s heading.” I stopped him before he could retort. “I might be a coward but I can learn. Take a good look at that fish, the one which ‘hit us from behind’.”

I turned away and started walking towards the car. Mike called behind me.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“What are the odds it could make it across the road like the others?” I called back, as I slammed the door shut.

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Kenneth Lawson: The Incident

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 Incident

Kenneth Lawson

The car skidded sideways, its rear end swinging to the right as he hit the brakes.

John sat panting, catching his breath. Whatever was in the road was not from here.

It had appeared almost in front of him. With no room to maneuver out of the way, he slammed on the brakes, and at seventy-five mph, it had taken a bit of road to stop. By the time he stopped his car, what he had seen and tried to avoid had vanished. As if it had never been there.

He closed his eyes, willing his breathing to return to normal. It was there all right. He’d seen it. Opening them again, he looked around the flat desert landscape that seemed to go on forever. There was nothing there.

John exited the car and stood, hands on hips, wondering what had just happened. He had seen an object the size of a large horse, but it was not a horse, but something else. He’d only seen it for a few seconds, just enough time to register that it was in front of him, and he was about to hit it. When the car stopped, he was well past where the being would have been if it had still been there. Which it wasn’t. No body of a large being—no blood or other signs of a car at extreme speed, hitting a creature of any kind. Nothing but a deserted road and acres of sand and scrub brush around him.

He got back into the car and jumped when the door slammed shut. No blood or other signs of a creature of any kind struck by a vehicle at extreme speed. Starting the car, he maneuvered back into the correct lane and pushed his foot down hard on the accelerator. The speedometer quickly climbed back to the speeds it had been resting at before the “incident.” That’s what he’d call it to himself. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever tell anyone else about it as they would never believe him. The skid marks on a deserted desert road proved that something had happened, but he was unable to explain it to himself, much less anyone else.

As he drove away, he failed to notice a glint of the sun on a pair of binoculars in the distance. Nor did he see the small stone moving on its own toward the side of the road.

***

At the same moment, a mile or so behind John, the captain stopped his car just short of the wood barriers that blocked the road. The sign attached said, “Road Closed.”

Old habits die hard, and he glanced around as if there were anyone who could see him in the outer reaches of a desert. It took barely a swing of the wheel to maneuver his car around the barricade that blocked the road. But the captain knew that the road-closed sign was misleading. The road was missing.

And he knew why.

The captain had seen the other car almost hit the alien that strayed too far from its crash site. The scare had caused it to regenerate spontaneously, and it became a rock that skidded into the gravel when the car stopped after barely missing it. He’d seen the whole thing. The guy got out and looked around. Even from his vantage point a mile away, he could tell the encounter had shaken the man up. He didn’t blame him.

The captain changed his form to match the parameters his computer gave him back at the crash site. He then “borrowed” a car from a farmer’s driveway several miles away. It had taken him a few minutes to learn to drive such a primitive contraption, but it was the standard way for natives to travel, so he assimilated as quickly as he could.

Now it was time to see if he could get his crew and his ship off this godforsaken planet.

He stopped the car near where the native had nearly killed his crew member and turned it off. He wondered if he could get it started again. Machines had never been his thing, so fixing this mechanical monster would be out of the question if it didn’t restart.

“You okay?” He spoke in his native tongue as no one was within a hundred miles.

The small pebble regenerated itself into its former size and shape. “Where did THAT come from?”

“It’s called a car. They use them for transport. I borrowed one, so we could travel without raising more suspicions.”

“What are you doing?” The younger eyed his captain’s strange form. “You look very uncomfortable in this thing.” He motioned to the car.

“I changed shape to a native form, so I wouldn’t scare the natives—like you just did.” He opened a back door. “Get in.”

The younger one stared at him as if he were crazy, but the captain nodded yes. Following orders, it shrank down small enough to fit in the back of the car and slammed the car door.

The captain turned the key. They both jumped when the engine roared back to life.

“This is loud!” the younger one complained.

As the captain had become accustomed to his new form, he found he liked the mobility of legs compared to his natural state. He knew that keeping the form for long would quickly drain his energy and cause his thinking to slow down. He needed all the energy he could get as long as he could.

A few minutes later, they arrived at the road closure sign. The captain eased past the closed-road sign that he had generated when he realized that he had crashed on the road, and his scans showed frequent travel. It looked real enough but would soon disappear into the subspace as the structure broke down.

He didn’t have long to get his ship off the planet. His cloaking device wouldn’t last long, and his ship would be visible to the natives. His limited research had already told him it wouldn’t end well for anyone.

At the crash site, the captain stopped the car, and he and his young passenger exited. He regenerated into his natural form, but the sun and heat were already slowing his reaction time in his natural state. Regenerated, he’d have to work fast.

***

John was only a few minutes down the road when he remembered the “road closed” sign on a side road. He had passed that road late yesterday, and there was no sign. He mused to himself. “So, what closes a road this fast? There hasn’t been any flash flooding, no earthquakes, no construction in this area.” He hit the brakes hard for the second that morning, and the car skidded to a stop, it’s rear end halfway across the ribbon of pavement.

John eased the car around and headed back the way he came, but this time not so fast. He slowed further as he approached the spot where his incident occurred. He stopped and exited the car. Standing next to the front fender, John could see the fresh skid marks, tire tracks, and make out the gravel’s skid pattern that blanketed the edges into the pavement.

He hopped back in the car and continued at a slow speed retracing his path. He watched the side roads that opened up at odd intervals along the main road. Some came in at wild angles almost parallel to the main road. A couple came up from ravines and appeared only as patches of gravel along the main road.

He was looking for a regular dirt road, relatively flat and level with the local ground. It should be on his right traveling in this direction. Yep, he was right. There it was. A road closed sign just as he remembered from earlier.

He stopped the car in the gravel along the pavement and exited the vehicle. He looked around, but there was no one in sight. He walked up to the sign

Getting out, he looked around. There was no car in sight.

Walking up the gravel along the road, he stopped short. There was a tire track leading around the barricade. He got back in the car and made a wide berth around the road-closed sign as he drove around it.

***

At the crash site, the captain was busy. He and his younger subordinate set up a perimeter cloaking device that made everything appear as it should be.

Inside the cloaking field, he was busy assisting his crew. Most were fine, but a couple had spontaneously regenerated into forms they couldn’t reverse. Those were a problem, but not his biggest problem.

He was fortunate his ship was undamaged, but he needed to power it up again, and that would require more energy than he was able to generate here. The ship was running on auxiliary power, and life support and main computers and sensors were working for now. He needed power, or the ship would be dead on a random planet he didn’t know existed. Sensors indicated a power source located not from the ship, but how to get the power from where he needed it?

***

John hadn’t been on this old side road in decades. About a mile or so down the road, he slowed down, sensing that something was amiss. A chill came over him as he approached an old, abandoned farmhouse on the right. Stopping the car at the mouth of what had once been a driveway up to the main house, he got out.

He shivered as he slammed the car door shut. He knew the temperature should be into the upper nineties, and he should be sweating even after a brief time standing in the sun. But the chill continued. He walked up the worn-out driveway muttering to himself. “Why did I stop here.” Something was not right, but he was clueless to tell what it was.

***

At the crash site, a sensor beeped. The captain stopped what he was doing as he read the display panel. It indicated a presence at one of the outside perimeter stations. And something else, the ambient temperature of the air around the perimeter was at least twenty degrees cooler than it should be. He had seen a similar reading other times he’d used the cloaking shields.

The data told him the intruder was a native from the height, weight, and body mass recorded. He wondered if it was the native he had seen almost hit his crew member earlier in the day.

The captain paused for a second, considering his options, but he didn’t have any. He needed help. This native appearing on the sensors was the only higher life form showing in the area. He had to try.

***

John glanced at his watch and realized the second hand wasn’t moving. What the…? It was a new automatic watch. The rotor inside spun around a pivot whenever he moved, thus winding the mainspring constantly. As long as he was moving, the watch was winding. It should be working, but it was not. The second hand hadn’t moved.

Something was wrong. He was shivering from the cold air that shouldn’t exist, not with the sun beating down in the middle of the day. He was cold. Looking around, he could see the sun shining directly above him. And his watch didn’t work when it should.

He walked back toward his car. Standing about where he was before, he looked back toward the house and realized there seemed to be a haze surrounding the driveway and the land surrounding it. The air away from the house was clear to the distant mountain range.

What was happening? 

***

The captain decided what he was going to do.

Rechecking his scanners to make sure there were no other natives around, he transformed into a native form. The effort would deplete his limited energy, but he needed help.

The captain pushed a couple of buttons on a panel near his ship’s main hatch, stepped out, and walked toward the perimeter of the cloak.

***

In the distance, John thought he saw a movement. Standing very still and covering his eyes from the sun, he observed as he detected movement coming from the old farmhouse. A figure came toward him and passed through the haze, which appeared to part then close behind the image.

John stood silently, barely breathing. Someone or something was walking toward him when he should have been alone. On the other hand, after this morning’s incident, anything was possible.

The figure was at least as tall as his six-foot frame but thinner, and his clothes seemed to be a hodgepodge of assorted styles from different eras. He wore a fedora and horn-rimmed glasses from decades ago. The rest of the outfit looked like it was scavenged from a thrift shop somewhere.

John was mostly fascinated by the figure’s face. It seemed to be familiar. It wasn’t until he was close enough to see the figure’s face that he realized who it was.

“Roger?” John whispered almost to himself.

“John?” The captain had no idea that the form he took looked like a form he’d taken decades ago.

“You’re the captain of the starship Galaxy Chipper?”

“How did you know that?” John’s face slowly came into focus to the captain.

Then it came to him.

“John, Johnny Starr…?”

“Yes, and you are Roger, Roger Major, we met back on Earth’s Mars a few decades ago.”

“Yeah, right. Now I remember. What are you doing here?”

“I got assigned here to try to keep them from blowing themselves up.”

“Yeah, the paperwork when a planet blows up is a bitch.”

“How’d you get here?”

I crashed, actually ran out of power, and landed back here.”

The captain gestured behind him to the old farmhouse.

“Yeah, I thought I recognized the signs of a cloaking device, but it’s been so long I’d forgotten. What do you need to get going again?”

“Power.”

“Power I have. There’s a substation not far from here. We’ll give you a jump. Oh, I must have almost hit one of your crew this morning.”

“Yeah, no problem. He’s fine, but I have a couple that shifted into odd shapes, but nothing I can’t handle.”

It took a couple of hours to transfer enough power for the captain’s ship to break through the atmosphere. As the ship faded from his view, John felt a slight longing to go with them.

However, he had a mission here to complete.

Returning to his car, John continued on his journey to Washington, D.C., to hopefully save the planet.

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Lynn Miclea: Alien Encounter

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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Alien Encounter

Lynn Miclea

Marcie pulled her long auburn hair back into a ponytail, grabbed her purse, phone, and keys, and ran out to her car. She couldn’t wait to see Kevin. Being with him was always the high point of her day. She wished the relationship could be even more, and she trusted that would happen someday. For now, she didn’t want to push too hard.

Glancing at her watch and seeing that she was running late, she decided to take a shortcut to his house. The road ran along the beach, curving with the shoreline. She rolled down the window and smelled the tangy, salty air from the ocean. A few minutes later, she slowed down as she spotted a barrier across the road with a sign: ROAD CLOSED.

Why was the road closed? She was already running late and didn’t want to go back and take the long way. Maybe it would be okay. She maneuvered her car around the barrier and slowly inched forward, staying alert for any problems. Sand covered the road in patches, but she didn’t think it was bad enough to close the entire road. Thinking the worst was over, she kept going.

Ten minutes later, she wondered if this was a mistake. The sand swirled over the road and it was hard to tell where the pavement was. What if she got stuck? She’d never get to Kevin’s. Stopping the car, she reached for her cell phone and called him.

He picked up immediately. “Hey, babe.”

“Hey,” she replied, already smiling. “I’m halfway to your place on the beach road, but the road is closed and covered with sand. I’m getting worried that I’ll be stuck here.” Would he think she was stupid for taking this road past the road-closed sign?

He laughed. “You won’t believe this,” he said. “I did the same thing. I was on my way to meet you and surprise you, and I also took the shortcut. And it’s closed on my side too.”

Marcie gasped. “It is? Where are you now?”

“Close to you. Stay put. I’ll be there in a few minutes. See you soon, babe.”

She hung up the phone. No matter what happened, he always made her feel better. But why would the road be closed?

A couple minutes later, she saw his silver SUV coming toward her. He waved at her as he stopped his car in front of hers and got out.

Marcie got out of her car and gestured toward him. “Hey, I’m trying to get through,” she joked.

Kevin laughed and picked her up and spun her around before putting her down and planting a big kiss on her lips. “I missed you and I love you,” he murmured.

“Mmm, that was nice. I love you too.” She gazed into his warm hazel eyes. She could look at him all day. “Hey, doesn’t the air here feel different?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like it’s thick. Something is weird. It feels uncomfortable.” Movement and reflected light caught her attention and she glanced to the side. “What the …”

Kevin followed her gaze. “Is that …”

Marcie stared at what looked like an alien spacecraft and two dark gray alien beings studying something on the beach. “That can’t be …”

Kevin’s voice was quiet. “Well, that explains why the road is closed in this section.”

Marcie’s palms were damp as her anxiety increased. “Maybe we should get out of here.”

“You’re probably right. We don’t want to get caught here. And who knows what those aliens would do if they saw us.”

“Yeah, let’s go. And something feels really eerie. Maybe that’s why the air feels thick here.”

“Yes, something does feel off. I don’t like it. We need to get going.”

“I agree. I’m hungry anyway.”

Kevin nodded. “Me too. I would love a big fat burger.” As the words left his mouth, the air in front of him sizzled. He gasped as sparkles formed and it slowly morphed into a hamburger floating in the air in front of him. He hesitated and then grabbed it. Inhaling deeply, he glanced at Marcie. “This smells wonderful. Do you think it’s edible?”

Marcie stared at him, her mouth open. “I’m … not sure. But I’d sure like a burger too.” The air sizzled, sparkles formed, and a burger materialized in front of her. The tantalizing aroma of the beef and spices reached her and she grabbed the burger, which was still warm. “I’m starving and this smells too good. I’m eating it.”

“Me too,” Kevin mumbled around a mouthful of his burger. “This is really good.”

They finished their burgers in silence for a few minutes, then Marcie licked her fingers. “Hey, we need napkins now.” The air sizzled and sparkles formed, and a small pile of napkins appeared in her hand. She gaped at them a few moments, and then handed one to Kevin and wiped her mouth with another.

Marcie stared at Kevin. The air around them felt electrified. “What if whatever we ask for appears?”

Kevin gave a nervous laugh. “Then I’d like a thousand dollars.” Within a minute, a large pile of money appeared in his hand.

Marcie gasped. “I want a million dollars!” Many large stacks of bills appeared on the ground in front of her, and she started laughing and picking up a few handfuls of bills. “This is impossible. It must be some kind of joke.”

Kevin shrugged. “Well, the burger was real. And delicious, too.”

Marcie giggled. “All I really want is to be with you.”

Kevin leaned forward and kissed her soft lips, then wrapped his arms around her. “You already have that,” he murmured in her ear.

He pulled back, gazed into her eyes, and stated, “I want the most beautiful diamond engagement ring.” Within moments, a gold ring with a large diamond appeared in his hand.

Marcie’s eyes grew wide. “Is that … for me?”

A shout from the beach startled them, and they turned toward the sound. Two uniformed men were confronting the aliens. One of the aliens pointed at the officers and the men instantly vanished with a cloud of gray smoke which dissipated. The officers now were nowhere to be seen.

Kevin pushed Marcie toward her car. “We need to get out of here. Now. Before they see us.”

Without another word, they got into their vehicles. Marcie placed the money she had grabbed and the remaining napkins on the seat next to her. After Kevin backed up his car and gave her room, Marcie made a quick U-turn, and they drove down the road toward the barrier.

Marcie struggled to breathe. She could not take a deep breath. The air felt heavy and thick, even oppressive, pressing on her throat. Sizzling sounds permeated the air, and she drove faster. As they approached the road-closed barrier, the air thinned out and felt more normal again. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

After driving a short distance beyond the barrier, Marcie pulled to the side of the road, and Kevin pulled up behind her.

Kevin got out of his car and came to Marcie, and she rolled down the window. He leaned in. “You okay?”

Marcie nodded. “Yes, but …”

“But what?”

She hesitated. “It was hard to breathe back there. Did you feel that too?”

Kevin nodded, and she continued. “And the money has disappeared. Same with the napkins. What we received at the beach has vanished. It only existed there.”

Kevin stared at her for a few moments. “That was the strangest thing I ever experienced.”

“Spooky and scary. But at least we’re out of there. And we’re okay.”

“I know.” He glanced back to where they had been. “Too bad we couldn’t have kept what we manifested there.”

Marcie gasped. “The ring?”

He shook his head. “Gone.” He reached forward and brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek. “But I’ll get another one. A real one.”

She swallowed. “I’d like that.”

“And you know what is real?”

“What?”

“My love for you.” He smiled. “And this.” He placed a soft kiss on her lips. “Let’s go get some lunch. If those burgers weren’t real either, we still need some food.”

She laughed as her stomach gurgled. “You’re right. Sounds good to me.”

“And then we can go ring shopping and get one for real. We’ll do it right.”

She hesitated, then looked into his eyes. “Would you have done that even if it didn’t manifest free? Are you ready for that?”

“Marcie, you are the best thing that ever happened to me. I don’t know what happened out there, but whatever it was, it made me treasure what we have even more. That might have been strange and bizarre. But what we have is real. And I want to make this permanent.”

She smiled and got out of the car, closing the door behind her. “I would like that too.”

“Besides,” he added, chuckling, “it has a nice ring to it.”

Marcie broke out in a loud laugh and hugged him. “I love you.”

“Hey, before they come after us and make us disappear, let’s go grab some lunch.”

She nodded. “Still want hamburgers?”

“No, maybe pizza would be better now.”

“And garlic bread.”

The air sizzled around them and a box of pizza materialized on the hood of her car with a bag on top of it. They stared at it unmoving. Her hand shaking, she stepped over and opened the bag. “It’s garlic bread,” she said softly.

His voice cracked. “What happened to us?”

“I’m not sure. Are we still affected by something alien? Was it the burgers we ingested? Do we have new abilities? Or is something else going on?”

“I don’t know. I think we need to get away from here.”

She shivered. “I feel cold now. I wish I had my jacket.” The air shimmered and a jacket materialized over her arm. She gasped, her eyes wide, and she jerked her arm back. The jacket fell to the ground, and she stood there staring at it. “What the …”

After a couple minutes, Kevin picked up the jacket. “Maybe it’s just a leftover residue from the energy there. It probably won’t last.”

Her voice shook. “And if it continues?”

“Well, whatever it is, we both have it. We’ll figure out something.”

“I’m spooked, Kevin.”

“I know. Me too.” He pursed his lips. “Let’s go get lunch for now.”

“Okay.” As she took a step and started to reach for her car door, it opened on its own, waiting for her.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2020 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/2020/11/17/alien-encounter/

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

Amber Deck: Road of memories

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

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

Road of Memories

Amber Deck

ROAD CLOSED… Those two words sounded so simple as Dr. Sparrow Malone read them to herself. She knew otherwise. Active homicides were never easy.

Sparrow looked up from the weathered road barrier — now entwined with crime scene tape — to see Detective Zane Travers walking her way. Shaggy brown hair framed the man’s handsome face, which currently showcased a grim expression. By the time Zane reached where she was standing, Sparrow had to tilt her head up to look into his hazel eyes. At five-foot-five, she looked tiny standing next to Zane’s toned, six-foot-four body.

“Thanks for coming down here, Sparrow.” Zane gave her a small grin. He lifted the crime scene tape and gestured for her to step under it. He waited until Sparrow was beside him before he continued speaking. “I know you typically don’t help out with active homicide cases, but we need you on this one. It has us puzzled.”

“Who is it, Zane?” Sparrow’s gray eyes stared up at him. Zane was making her nervous by hesitating on the case details. Sparrow gave him a playful smile. “I’m a Criminal Psychology professor, not a mind reader. I skipped that class during grad school at Oxford.”

Zane chuckled. “Really? Portland PD makes that our first class at the academy.” He ushered Sparrow to an unoccupied area as he lowered his voice. “Remember how I told you that you never had to tell me about your past?”

Sparrow’s smile faded. “I remember. It was during our first date.”

“Yes, that’s exactly right,” Zane confirmed as he took a deep breath. “Sparrow, you don’t have to share anything with me that you don’t want to. I just want you to be prepared.” He could see the multitude of questions swimming in her dark gray eyes. “The victim had your name written on a piece of paper in her coat pocket. Sparrow, does the name ‘Diona Pianza’ sound familiar?”

Sparrow froze as Zane spoke the name of a woman she hadn’t seen in years. Yes. She knew her. Diona was the daughter of a retired federal judge in Portland. She was wealthy, beautiful, and Sparrow’s identical twin. She hadn’t seen Diona in three years — since she and their mother slammed their overpriced house door in her face.

“Sparrow?” Zane took one of her hands in his. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Zane — just shocked at who the victim is.” Sparrow tucked a strand of long, black hair behind her ear. “I know her, that’s for sure. When I moved here from London three years ago, I was on a mission. Father had just passed away, and he informed me that I had family here in Portland.”

“Diane Pianza.” Zane’s eyes widened at the new information. “Then that explains why…”

“Yes. Diona and I are identical twins.” Sparrow sighed as tears formed in her eyes. “I was ecstatic to know that I still had family left. After all, Father was the only family I had in London. Boy, was I in for a surprise.” She knew Zane was not liking the way this story was going by the way his body tensed. “I arrived at Diane’s door, eager to meet my mother, and was promptly informed that she’d never wanted two children. Both have since called me a gold-digger, attention-seeker, and who knows what else. Diane even threatened to place a restraining order on me if I contacted them.” Sparrow felt tears rolling down her cheeks. “I never felt more alone than at that moment. Well, until a certain Detective Travers strolled into one of my class lectures.”

Zane pulled her into his arms and hugged her. “I’m sorry that happened, Sparrow. You don’t have to help with this case. I’m almost done here, and then I’ll take you home.”

“No, Zane.” Sparrow shook her head as she looked up at him. “Diona may have been a cold-hearted person, but she was my sister. I need to know what happened to her. I need to know why she had my name on her.”

“Stubborn, aren’t we?” Zane grinned as he released her. He took her hand in his as he led her toward the tarp-covered body. “Let’s get to work, then.”

It was more than two hours later before they left the closed-off section of the highway behind. Zane admired how calm she had been as the Medical Examiner gave them the preliminary cause of death — strangulation. 

Zane was, however, concerned with how Sparrow was going to handle seeing Diane Pianza. She had insisted on going with him to do the notification.

“I can still take you home, Sparrow.” Zane glanced over at her. “You don’t have to put yourself through this.”

“Diane might know something, Zane. She might know why Diona had my name on her.” Sparrow sighed and looked out the passenger window. The afternoon sun was slowly starting to peek through the clouds. “I have to help. I need this closure.”

Zane nodded. “Alright, but we’re leaving the minute she makes you feel uncomfortable. I’ll carry you out of that house kicking and screaming if I have to.”

A small smile formed across Sparrow’s face. “You’re always there to rescue me, Zane. One of these days, I really could need protecting from something.”

Zane chuckled and shook his head. He knew Sparrow was joking with him, but there were strange details in this homicide that were starting to gnaw at him. Something about how this crime scene was “displayed” didn’t feel right, and Zane was praying that it was just his over-protectiveness working overtime. The only issue with his bad feeling was that he was sure this case wasn’t only about Diona.

“We’re here.” Sparrow’s voice was barely a whisper, but it managed to bring Zane out of his thoughts. “Time to face my demons.”

Zane gave her a sympathetic smile as he turned the car toward the judge’s address at Victory Lakes. Sparrow remained silent as he brought the car to a stop in front of the enormous metal gate that blocked the community’s entrance. Zane flashed his badge to the guard that peered through the doorway of a small building nearby. The guard nodded as he opened the gate — waving them through. Zane nodded to the man in response.

“Have you seen or heard from Diona lately??” Zane asked as he navigated through the neighborhood. “I just figured I might need to ask — you know, in case Diane assumes that…”

Sparrow knew why Zane wouldn’t finish his last statement. “In case Diane assumes that I killed her. I expect that she might think that, too, since I’m the daughter she didn’t want.” Sparrow sighed. “I never wanted money from them. My father made sure I was very well taken care of — even after he passed. The only thing I ever wanted was a mother.” Tears threatened to form in her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away. “Plus, you knew where I was at her time of death. I was giving a lecture to seventy-five students.”

“I know that, Sparrow.” Zane turned into the Pianza’s driveway. “I just don’t want her blaming you.”

“I’ll be fine, Zane.” Sparrow smiled as Zane brought the car to a stop. She turned to face him. “I haven’t seen or spoken to Diona in three years. I’m sure Diane thinks I’ve gone back to London by now, anyway.”

Zane gave her a reassuring grin as they both got out of the car. The two-story brick house was lit up with various outdoor lamps and security lights. It wasn’t surprising that the door was open by the time the couple arrived at it.

“Can I help you?” A petite woman in her early twenties stood by the door. Her dark-brown hair hung in a low ponytail — the color matching her eyes. Sparrow didn’t remember seeing her before.

“I’m Detective Travers, and this is Dr. Malone.” Zane took his badge out of the inside pocket of his jacket. “We need to speak with Diane Pianza. It’s an urgent matter.”

The woman stared at him before glancing at his badge. She looked at Sparrow, briefly, before turning her attention back to Zane. The young woman sighed as she moved out of the way — allowing them to enter.

“Maybe you can help us with our recent Diona dilemma.” The young woman closed the door behind the couple before leading them to the large sunroom at the back of the house. “My sister has decided to disappear again… Can you believe it? Only a week until her wedding, too!”

The bitterness in the woman’s voice would have made anyone suspicious — if she hadn’t just dropped the bombshell of being Diona’s sister. Sparrow was sure she had heard her wrong. Diane had only wanted one child — no more.

“Excuse me. You’re Diona’s sister?” Sparrow asked as they walked. “I wasn’t aware that Diane had two daughters.”

“That’s because Diona takes all the spotlight. I’m Dana.” The woman smiled at them over her shoulder. “I’m her half-sister. Our mom and my dad are divorced. I mostly stay in New York. I’m a senior at NYU.” Dana stopped and faced Sparrow. “I know who you are, Dr. Malone. I just can’t believe how much you two look alike, but, then again, identical twins means identical — right?”

Sparrow nodded. “Yes, but raised worlds apart. You can call me Sparrow, by the way. Dr. Malone is what my students call me.”

“Thanks, Sparrow,” Dana replied as she smiled at her. “I’m sorry about what happened last time. If I hadn’t been off at school, I would have loved to have met my other sister.” Dana motioned for them to continue following her. “One of my friends is taking your Criminal Psychology class this semester, and she is just raving about her awesome professor on Facebook.”

Zane chuckled as he glanced over at Sparrow — who was trying to hide her embarrassment. She never complimented herself, and she looked so adorable when others did so. That was one thing he loved about her.

“Diona!” A loud male voice boomed through the spacious sunroom as the trio entered. Sparrow looked around Dana to see a man rushing toward her. Even though he stood a few inches shorter than Zane, he was rather handsome with short, jet-black hair and blue eyes. The man grabbed Sparrow and hugged her close when he reached her. “We’ve been so worried! You were just going out for the day. You can’t just disappear like that when we’re getting married in a week!”

Sparrow managed to push herself away from the man’s crisp, dark-gray suit. The aggressive move appeared to shock him — causing his gaze to drift from Sparrow to Zane. Zane’s expression caused the stranger to drop his arms from around Sparrow and back away.

“What is going on? Who is this?” The man looked from Sparrow to Dana. “Oh, is this Dana’s date to the wedding? Isn’t he a little, um, older than you, Dana?”

“You have got to be kidding me, Greg. You can’t be that dumb. I honestly don’t believe what Diona ever saw in you.” Dana sighed and rolled her eyes. 

“Be nice, Dana.” A sharp voice came from behind Greg. “Everyone, come take a seat.”

Sparrow and Zane followed Dana to the middle of the sunroom. She led them to a bright yellow sofa before joining her mother on the loveseat across from them.

“It’s been a while, Sparrow,” Diane said calmly. “I’ve heard that you have made quite a name for yourself at the local university.”

“Yes, I have,” Sparrow answered coolly. She gestured at Zane beside her. “I also help Portland police with cases. This is Detective Zane Travers.”

Diane glanced at him and nodded. “Hello, Detective Travers. I assume you have news regarding Diona?” She sighed as Zane nodded. “I had a feeling that something was wrong. Do I need an attorney present for this conversation?”

“Only if you believe you do, Mrs. Pianza,” Zane informed her. “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but we found Diona’s body this morning. She was murdered.”

If Diane was shocked or saddened, the woman was doing an excellent job at hiding it. Sparrow had never seen a person with such a flawless poker face. She found it odd that Diane was acting nothing like the woman who’d thrown her out three years ago.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m not surprised to hear this.” Diane’s voice was steady and quiet. Beside her, Dana broke into silent sobs. Greg gently helped her out of the room. “Diona had always been a handful. She’s made enemies, bad decisions, and who knows what else. I knew this visit would come one day.” Diane sighed again. “Last year, I had a heart attack. I had to retire from my career, so I told her to grow up. She decided to get engaged instead.”

“That explains Greg,” Sparrow mumbled. She winced as Diane nodded. “I’m sorry, Diane. It’s not my place to judge…”

“No, Sparrow.” Diane shook her head. “You have every right. My heart attack made me rethink how I talked to you. I have been so ashamed since then. I didn’t even think about you having no one but us. I only learned last year that Albert had passed three years ago, but I do not doubt that you tried to tell me that night you came here. I just acted so….”

Sparrow smiled at her. “I forgive you, Diane. That’s all in the past, but we do need your help. Detective Travers needs to ask you some questions.”

“Mrs. Pianza, do you know your daughter’s plans for yesterday?” Zane took out a notepad and pen from his coat pocket. “Was she meeting anyone in particular?”

“Please, call me Diane.” The older woman gave him a small smile. “She said that she was running errands then drinks with her friends. When she didn’t arrive for her dress fitting this morning, I called her friends. They said she never showed up last night.” Diane thought for a moment. “Every call went straight to her voicemail.”

“We didn’t find a phone on her or at the scene,” Zane informed her. “We found Sparrow’s name on a piece of paper in Diona’s pocket. Was she looking to reconnect with Sparrow, too?”

Diane nodded slowly. “As much as I love Diona, I raised her terribly. She is — was — spoiled, and she always saw Sparrow as a threat. When I wanted to apologize to Sparrow, Diona got very angry. Unless she was planning something, I cannot understand why she would have Sparrow’s name on her.”

Zane nodded as he wrote everything down. He glanced at Sparrow to see how everything was affecting her. He was amazed at how strong she remained throughout this whole conversation.

“How about her relationship with Greg?” Sparrow asked. “He was quick to think that she was having an affair.”

“Diona was Greg’s world — even though she called off their engagement multiple times to have flings.” Diane frowned. “He would always take her back. I never understood why, but I guess he loves her.”

“Correction… Diona was my world.” The sound of Greg’s irritated tone floated through the air. As the trio swiveled in their seats to look at the sunroom’s doorway, Zane’s hand immediately went to his gun at his hip. “I must admit that I strung her along for longer than I meant to, but she had tortured me enough in our previous relationships. I figured there would be no harm in keeping her around to get what I wanted.”

“What do you want, Greg?” Zane remained calm as he spoke to Greg. The man was unarmed, which meant Zane could reason with him better. “Was she spending too much money?”

“No!” Greg exclaimed with a scowl. “It’s your fault, Detective Travers. You’re the reason Diona’s dead.” The surprised look on everyone’s face made him grin. Greg faced Sparrow and walked a few steps closer to the couch. “You see, Sparrow, I thought Diona was cheating on me — you were right about that. So I followed her one day — or, at least, I thought I followed her. It turns out that I was following you. I got so angry when I saw you with the detective, but then again, I thought you were Diona. So, I followed you to the University to confront you. I realized my mistake when I listened to your lecture. I wrote your name down so I could go back to another one.”

“That is why you murdered my sister?” Sparrow’s eyes widened. A combination of shock and anger swimming through them. “You liked my lecture?”

“I liked more than that.” Greg grinned. “Diona had gone through my jacket before she left to run errands. I don’t know what she was looking for, but she found where I had written your name down. We had a huge fight, and I just snapped.” He scowled at Diane. “You knew that your daughter was a terrible person. She was going to confront Sparrow and make her miserable. I couldn’t allow that.”

“So, you killed her?” Sparrow stood up — balling her hands into fists. Zane stood up beside her. “She was just spoiled, and your best solution was murder? Tell me this: did you purposely leave my name on her to lead me here? Is that why you left her body out in the open?”

“I think that you can answer those questions better at the precinct.” Zane stated intensely at Greg — keeping his tone low and direct as he spoke. He could see Greg tensing up at his suggestion. “Let’s just relax, Greg. You don’t want to do anything that will…”

Whack!

Before Sparrow could blink, Greg was on the floor. Dana stood behind him with a silver platter in her hands. The petite woman glanced from Greg to Sparrow and Zane.

“He has a gun in his waistband. I saw it under his jacket.” Dana leaned over him and flipped up the bottom of his jacket. She waited as Zane came over and retrieved the small handgun from against Greg’s lower back. “I heard someone yelling. When I got here and heard him confess, I… I knew I had to help. He was going to hurt you.”

“It’s okay, Dana. We’re all okay.” Sparrow hugged her sister. She glanced over at Diane — motioning for her to join. The woman gladly accepted the invitation. Sparrow glanced at Zane as he handcuffed Greg and stood up. She smiled at the grin Zane gave her. “We are all just fine now.”

“Let’s start over, Sparrow,” Diane told her after their hug ended. She glanced at Zane. “I would like to get to know my daughter’s boyfriend after all this.”

Sirens blared in the distance — signaling the arrival of the backup that Zane had called minutes ago. He propped a groggy Greg against a wall and put his arm around Sparrow’s waist.

“I’d like that… Mom?” Sparrow’s smile widened as her mother smiled in approval. She snuggled closer to Zane as the sirens came closer. “I think we’d both like that quite a lot.”

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Enzo Stephens: A Bridge to Nowhere

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 Bridge to Nowhere

Enzo Stephens

“Freddy! Slow down!”

The ’59 Chrysler station wagon barreled inbound to the city of Pittsburgh on the Parkway West at breakneck speed, and no, thank you very little, Freddy was in no way, shape or form, slowing down.

He snapped repeated glances at Margo, cords standing out on his neck, as the muscles on his taut arms twitched and writhed. “Aw, c’mon Margo! I told you that going out with me would be like no other date you’ve ever been on.” 

The wagon jostled over rough pavement, forcing Freddy to focus on the drive, such as it was, while Margo simply could not find a good grip on much of anything, which terrified her even more. 

Whatever nonsense Freddy was spouting was ancillary as panic and terror overrode everything except for the fact that Freddy was hell-bent to mangle and kill them both in some horrific crash where her mom and dad would only be able to identify her by her teeth. “I said FUCKING SLOW DOWN!”

Freddy laughed, then dramatically stomped his foot on the gas and she felt the huge car surge, spiking that terror up just a little bit more as if that’s what she needed.

“You’re either in or you’re out, Margo.”

The station wagon was beginning to shake, but still that crazy-assed smile was plastered all over Freddy’s damned face and she wanted nothing more than to just stop this damned car and get the hell away from this lunatic. Far away—

“In? Or out? Which is it? Step up for your pony ride now before it’s too late.” He looked at her, eyes wide, teeth flashing in the night, V-neck tee shirt flapping in the late spring breeze, and Margo’s panic blazed. 

“Watch the road—”

“Oh shuddup. I got it.” And yet, maybe he didn’t ‘have it,’ because the car was creeping slowly to the left until it was blustering along at over 70 mph mere inches from the dividing wall.

“Freddy, please…”

“Looks like you’re in, Margo. You’re in like Flynn.”

“You’re scaring me—”

“That’s the thrill, babe! Ain’t no thrill if you ain’t scared.”

The ponderous car crested Greentree Hill and Margo could have sworn the car went airborne. A tiny scream slipped out. 

That just seemed to egg Freddy on as the car began the three-mile descent to the Fort Pitt Tunnels; a steep downgrade and all twisty and windy four-lane concrete, and as Margo wrestled to hold her skirt down (and hold her suddenly aching bladder), Freddy whipped past a cop car; their mouths opened in a comical ‘O.’

In a heartbeat, the car swung out into the left lane behind Freddy, lights and sirens blasting.

Freddy laughed again. “Can’t make this fucker go no faster, babe!”

“Stop the car, Fred! Stop it now. I want out.”

“No can do, babe. Looks like you’re in.”

The car took a sharp right turn at speed; Freddy nosing the car into the turn to cut down on fishtailing. The cop was right on their asses. “I hate bumper-riders!”

Freddy stomped on the brakes and the racing police car slammed into the butt-end of the wagon. The impact threw Margo forward so she bumped her noggin on the expansive dashboard, flapping skirt a distant memory.

Freddy steered the car out of a slide as the tailgating police car peeled off away from the bludgeoned rear end of the station wagon and turned straight into the retaining wall of the highway. Freddy whipped the station wagon back on the highway.

“Woo HOO! Now THAT was some fancy-assed driving!”

“I’m gonna barf.”

“Suck it up, babe, we got some more fun in the sun tonight!” Freddy’s eyes locked on a significant portion of exposed female thigh. “Nice wheels!”

The car shot out of the steep turn onto a straightaway that finally leveled out. The speedometer’s needle was quivering somewhere between 80 and 90; rattles and clanks clattered from the ruptured rear end of the wagon, while the front of the damned thing twitched and shook like the entire thing was going to fly apart.

“Freddy, please. We’ve got to stop.”

The car rocketed into the maw of the tunnel, headlights bouncing and playing over the tiled interior as the roar of the blustering 450 eight-cylinders of happy horses echoed back at them. It was utterly deafening, and Margo just knew this was her time. Freddy was going to kill them both and there wasn’t a damned thing she could do.

Her eyes roamed around the dark interior of the car (thankfully she managed to clamp off the disgusting barf) for some kind of weapon she could use to slug the fool with, but there was nothing she could see, and the car was jouncing around so much, there was no way she wanted another bout with that dashboard.

“Now ya wanna be hanging on there babe, cuz we got a tighty righty to be making just on the other side of the tunnel. If I screw it up, we’re taking an early swim in the river.”

Margo stared at him as if he were speaking Swahili or something. He threw another frenzied glance at her. “Hey! Snap to, doll. You hear me? Grab hold of something. End of the tunnel is coming up fast.”

And indeed it was, the gape of the other end growing larger by the eye-blink, and yet all she could think of to say was, “Which river?”

“What?”

“If you miss the tighty-righty and we end up going for a moonlight swim, which river will we be swimming in?”

“What the fu—” The car burst out of the tunnel and Freddy began nosing right, nudging past other traffic, and suddenly the tighty-righty was THERE and Freddy battled the massive car and Margo felt herself being thrown over toward him, toward the maniac, and she scrabbled to clamp onto something. 

The car lunged into the 90-degree turn with a hefty fishtail; the rear whacking off another retaining wall, but Freddy got it aligned and it blasted down a ramp onto Fort Duquesne Boulevard.

<>

In the Year of Our Lord 1962, just before the nation was stunned at the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the City of Pittsburgh was in its industrial hey-day. 

It was the Steel Capital of the World, and as the city grew and population expanded, the city’s infrastructure followed suit, leading to a surge in highways and byways and bridges. 

Pittsburgh thrived, and its neighboring city — Allegheny — grew commensurately, sharing in the wealth by providing a home to the metropolis’ workforce. 

The two cities were separated by a river. City planners on both sides felt a merger of the two would serve everyone’s best interest, and so work on a new bridge would begin, and after much haggling and ado, everyone agreed to name the bridge the Fort Duquesne Bridge, except…

Developers were unable to secure access rights for approach ramps, and the project sooner rather than later ran out of cash, leaving the project partially completed.

There were no northside access ramps or primary roadway continuation, and so the bridge just… ended. In mid-air, with the connecting point on the northside almost 200 feet away.

And so, the Bridge to Nowhere was born.

<>

Fort Duquesne Boulevard bordered the north side of the city, running between the city proper and the Allegheny River; largely level and densely traveled, but on this night, Freddy found no other vehicular obstruction as he raced unerringly uptown.

Margo was huddled into a ball on the floor, her arms wrapped around her drawn-in knees, facing the maniacal Freddy whose head was hunched forward, jutting jaw, as if daring someone or something to get in his way. His eyes were slits that he turned to her as she sobbed. “What the hell ya doing, Margo? Get up in that seat. You’re gonna wanna be sitting your pretty self in that seat.”

“N — No.”

Freddy shrugged. “Suit yourself then. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

“Fuck you, Freddy.”

“I’m guessing you’re not liking this date?”

Silence.

“Well, the best is yet to come, doll. You sit tight, this is gonna end with a bang!”

The car was reaching the upper end of Fort Duquesne Boulevard; speedometer still holding around 80 or so. Margo rested her head on her arms and silently said goodbye to her mom and dad.

“Hang on!” Freddy instructed, and the car immediately went into a hard left turn, the side of the wagon bounced off a guardrail before the car righted itself and churned forward. Margo looked up, saw the warning signs and her stomach clenched in terror.

“Freddy! What are you doing? Did you see the signs?”

“Screw the signs.”

“FREDDY!”

“Tonight, my little bird, we fly!”

The car rocketed up onto the bridge pavement and Margo jumped into her seat and stared straight ahead, watching the wooden warning signs approaching with stunning speed; the car crashed through them, seeming to pick up speed and then there was no more road.

<>

Pittsburgh Post

December 14, 1964

Editorial

“In a moment of youthful recklessness, Frederick Williams and his companion Margo Wheeler displayed the sheer foolish short-sightedness of Pittsburgh city officials when Mr. Williams drove his car off the end of the partially-completed Fort Duquesne Bridge.

Miraculously, both were unhurt.

Mr. Williams’ car — a 1959 Chrysler station wagon, landed on the shore of the Allegheny upside down. It flew 190 feet.

What was Mr. Williams trying to accomplish with this potentially tragic stunt? Was he sending a message to Pittsburgh city officials to finally finish this absurdity-of-a-bridge?

Well, according to Mr. Williams, he was trying to give his companion in this stunt a once-in-a-lifetime dating experience that she would never forget.

It’s a pretty good bet that in that regard, Mr. Williams was successful.”

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Marian Wood: A Bad Day and the Fates of a Closed Road

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 Bad Day and the Fates of a Closed Road

Marian Wood

A Bad Day

With a bad day behind me, I need to get home. Hearing Alfie’s angry voice, I need little Billie. Life has gotten to me, why do bad things have to happen? My dad always said that “just two things are certain in life — death and taxes,” quoting Benjamin Franklin in 1789.

Why can’t we keep our loved ones forever? Losing special people truly hurts. Watching the young woman crying, I know I’m in the right profession, but where Surgeon Carl can fix people. Myself, nurse Beth, can’t. I made her a warm mug of tea and consoled her. I tried to answer her questions, but some questions don’t have a fair answer. I’m used to seeing death in Accident and Emergency, and today should have been no different. However, here something wasn’t right, a perfectly nice couple in a nearly new car that for some reason the brakes failed.

Just driving down a closed road would have been stupid. The police have questioned the young widow and I listened to some of it. Feeling a shiver like a spider crawling over me, with no enemies things didn’t add up. I’m a nurse, should I really be investigating a murder? Maybe I’ve read too many crime thrillers but this can’t be right.

Home

With these thoughts racing around my head, I pull into my drive. I could now hear Alfie, clearly, Billie had upset him again. Pulling my comfortable woolly jumper around me, I put my hands back on the steering wheel and count to ten. Tempted to reverse back off the drive, I wonder for the umpteenth time why I married him. If I hadn’t been pregnant with Billie, standing him up at the church would have been wise, but my child needed her dad, so mum advised me to marry him. Had she known how violent he got I’m sure she would have said run. As I sat wishing him dead rather than the young man today, I wondered how easy it was to damage his brakes. Shaking my head, I know this is crazy thinking. I need to go indoors for Billie’s sake.

Grabbing my bags, I slam the car door and stumble up the path. Noticing the weeds growing, this was time. I don’t need Alfie, he’s a bully and, like a weed, undesirable.

A week later

Ringing the bell, I know I’m crossing a line. I’m not the police, I’m a concerned nurse. I’m now going to be the friend. I want to know what happened. As the attractive blonde opened the door, the butterflies started in my stomach.

“Hi Alice, I’m nurse Beth from the hospital. I’m here just to talk with you and check you are alright.”

“Errr, you’d better come in.”

After chatting for an hour, I learnt that Alice’s uncle had hated now-dead Terry. Complications of family and loyalty had prevented her from telling the police. As she started crying it was obvious that this needed pursuing further. Cutting someone’s brakes seemed extreme but this seemed a logical explanation. Holding her right hand, I tried to reassure her. Her uncle needed to be punished, he had killed an innocent man.

Billie

As my life has turned a corner, threatening phone calls have now started. Alice has become a friend after she finally spoke to the police. I haven’t seen Alfie since the night I asked him to leave, but his temper is foul. Ignoring the ringing phone again, I hold Billie close to me. Knowing things are wrong, she’s crying and I have to sort this.

Hearing the doorbell, I scooped Billie into my arms. Relieved to see Alice, I greeted her with a hug.

“Beth, what’s happened?”

“It’s all the phone calls, the threats, what do I do?”

“Talk to the police again, they can help.”

Sitting down, I sat Billie next to me. In her pretty face, I could see her father. This couldn’t go on.

Later that evening

I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, it’s my vocation. Helping and making people better is what I do. Wishing people dead is not me. I’ve always believed that everyone can be helped, they just need to have the tools to help themselves. Analysing my time with Alfie, I have pulled it to pieces, blaming myself when he has lashed out. They say what goes around, comes around, so why was it me rocking backwards and forwards in tears? With Billie in bed, I have opened a bottle of red. Considering using my large tea mug rather than a tiny wine glass, I jumped as the doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting visitors. Wiping my face I answered the door.

“Hello.”

“Hello, I’m Detective Inspector Charles and this is Inspector Lacey, can we come in?”

This didn’t make sense. Alice’s uncle is in the police cells.

“Beth, we have some difficult news, how well do you know Alice Hughes?”

“We became friends when her partner Terry was killed.”

“Tonight, we found your husband Alfie, there’s no easy way to tell you this. It appears he had been drinking and he drove onto a closed road.”

“Sorry officer, what does this have to do with me?”

Alfie

“I’m sorry, but your husband was found dead and he had this letter with him.” DI Charles passed it to me. Shocked by what I read I started crying again. This couldn’t be right, I was going to kill her (not literally of course).

Here it was, a letter of confession, here in black and white. Alfie’s moods had gotten worse over the last few months and this was possibly why. He had been having an affair with Alice Hughes and when she refused to leave Terry, he had killed him. The police were sure that the guilt had gotten too much for him and he had gotten drunk and drove with the intention of ending it all, he had certainly managed that.

I’m not sure if this is fair karma. I have wished him dead so many times. He deserves to be locked in a prison cell, he has escaped being sentenced for murder.

Being angry isn’t good, I could feel my eyes stinging now. How dare he cheat on me? Hearing Billie on the stairs I have to pull myself together.

Showing the police to the door, I reflect on my life. I have a job and a daughter I love. I am sorry for Alice’s uncle who I have helped imprison, I need to apologise to him. Do I forgive Alice? No, not yet, if she hadn’t cheated then Terry and Alfie would still be alive; and the violence we have experienced these last few months might not have happened.

Walking upstairs to find Billie, she’s my concern now. Tomorrow, I pick myself up and rebuild. No more threatening phone calls, no Alfie and no Alice, it’s time to move on.

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Chester Harper: Folly

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Folly

Chester Harper

“Columbine, I don’t think you should go. Think of the babies and yourself.” Jay looked into his wife’s eyes and saw that she wasn’t going to back down.

“I still have two months before my due date.” She then added the final argument. “Once the babies get here, I won’t be able to travel for quite some time.”

She sidled up next to Jay and stroked the chest hair showing out of his button up shirt. Looking into his eyes, she pleaded, “I’ve never been to Charleston, and you know how I love history. It will be so beneficial to my students. Besides, Mom and Dr. Redbud said it would be fine.”

Jay knew when he was defeated. “Ok, let’s get packed.”

~O~

The Southeast was experiencing an unusually active hurricane season. All of the named storms had already blown through, and they were now on the Greek alphabet named storms. Epsilon caused minor damage to the Charleston, South Carolina station, and before repairs could be made, Zeta, Eta, and Theta had hit in quick succession causing enough damage to call in the experts for repairs. Jay was one such expert.

Columbine and Willow had left Jay to work on the transpo station and took a car to one of the local beaches. They parked to the side of the road on the landward side of an orange and white striped caution barrier with a road closed sign posted on it. They walked past it on the sand-covered road and came to four-foot-high dunes that should not be there.

“I can hardly believe how much sand the hurricanes moved.” Columbine was saddened by the beach and dune erosion. “The dune grasses didn’t stand a chance against four hurricanes in such a short time.”

“No, I’m afraid not.” Willow looked past Columbine to a group of people gathered on the beach. “I wonder what they’ve found?”

Mother and daughter walked toward the small group and Willow craned her neck to see what had their attention. “Oh my God.” Willow raced to the group and snatched a child away to keep him from touching the objects of interest. 

The child cried and the mother whirled to confront Willow. “What do you think you are doing?”

Willow let the child go to his mother. “Those are Civil War era cannonballs. They could still be explosive and unstable.”

The mother visibly paled and pulled her son farther from the pile of cannonballs. The other spectators also backed off. “Thank you. I had no idea. I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

“No problem,” Willow replied. “We should call the authorities.”

While they waited for the experts to arrive, they made sure no one approached the cannonballs too closely.

“Do you live locally?” Columbine attempted to break the awkward silence. 

“Yes, we moved here right before Miles was born.” Suddenly she realized her southern manners. “I’m sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. I am Brittany and this is my son, Miles.” She presented an extended hand to Columbine. “We live on James Island.”

Columbine accepted the extended hand. “I am Columbine, and this is my mother, Willow. We drove across James Island to get here, I think.”

“That’s the only way to get to Folly.” Brittany smiled.

The authorities arrived and asked everyone to leave as they barricaded the area.

“Do you ladies feel like some really good seafood?” She smiled warmly. “I know a place.”

“That would be great, Brittany. I’m starving.” Columbine placed a hand on her belly.

“How far along are you, Sweetie?”

“Thirty-two weeks and four days.”

Brittany scrutinized Columbine’s abdomen. “You look further along than that.”

The horrified look on Brittany’s face made mother and daughter laugh.

“I am so sorry. That just came out. Please forgive me.”

“It’s ok. I’m not offended at all. I’m having twins.”

“You look great for that far along with twins.” Brittany tried to redeem herself.

“Thank you. Mom tries to make me do everything right, even when I don’t want to or have weird cravings.”

“I’m a nurse,” Willow explained.

“That explains why we hit it off so well. I’m an ultrasound tech at MUSC. Medical drawn to medical.”

“If I hadn’t gone into nursing, I considered radiology.” Willow nodded her head toward the parked cars. “Let’s go get some good seafood.”

~O~

Willow and Columbine spent the next two days sightseeing the Charleston area. Plantations took up one whole day as they toured Middleton Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall. Willow bought a handmade jug with a sculpted face on it at Middleton for Adam. She just knew it would appeal to his taste and love of history.

The next day, they visited the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island. The only tea plantation in North America had a spectacular gift shop, and they bought presents and several different teas after sampling even more. The day was finished with a visit to the Angel Oak, a 400- to 500-year-old live oak. The majesty of the tree, whose shade covered 17,200 square feet, humbled them and made Columbine wish Jay were not working. He would love this tree.

That night Jay announced he had finished the repairs and the transpo was ready to carry them home, when they were ready. It was decided they would use the following day to sightsee with Jay and show him some of the more notable sights they had already seen. 

~O~

“That is one amazing tree.” Jay didn’t stop talking about the Angel Oak on the drive back to Charleston and then over the Ravenaugh Bridge to Mount Pleasant and Boone Hall Plantation. He kept talking about it as they went to the plantation store where they bought some Charleston blend coffee and some Boone Hall Good and Evil hot sauce. 

They parked at White Point Gardens then took a bicycle taxi to the City Market. They leisurely strolled the market and turned left on Meeting Street to walk back to White Point Gardens. Willow and Columbine admired the sweet grass baskets lining the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse and post office while Jay took in the architectural beauty of St. Michael’s Church across the street as the malevolent spirit struck.

“I’s a gonna kill that demon spawn you be a carryin’.” The ancient black woman ran toward Columbine with an upraised, wicked looking knife.

Willow pushed Columbine in an attempt to save her from harm, but only partially succeeded. Adam was in time to catch Columbine as she fell with the knife in her thigh.

“I called 911. Help is on the way,” a young woman cried.

“Mom, they can’t take me to a hospital.” Columbine motioned to her swollen abdomen. “Not in my condition.”

Willow watched as blood steadily spread to cover the sidewalk under her daughter’s leg, in spite of the pressure she was holding. “Honey, we have no choice. You need treatment.”

“She be carryin’ a demon in her belly,” the old woman screamed from where the police were restraining her.

Willow leaned down to Columbine’s ear and Jay leaned in close to listen. “She has the gift and had a vision of the twins. In her mind, the recessive twin is a demon.”

“Mom, what if…?”

“It’s going to be ok. Don’t worry.” Willow rose from her daughter’s side to allow the EMT personnel to treat her.

Later in the surgery waiting room at MUSC, Jay and Willow waited for Columbine to wake up as the surgeon updated them on her condition.

“The knife severed a major vein in her leg and narrowly missed the artery.” The surgeon wiped his brow as he removed the surgical hat. “We will need to do an ultrasound to ensure the babies are healthy. She lost a lot of blood.”

“We can follow up with her O.B. once home.” Jay looked to his mother-in-law. “Right?”

“Yes, we can…”

“I’m sorry. I must insist that she have the ultrasound before I discharge her. Traveling could be detrimental to the fetuses.” The doctor turned to walk away. “I’ll arrange it.”

Jay ran his hands through his hair and paced. “What are we going to do? We can’t let them scan the babies. They will see.” He continued his nervous behaviors. “Good God, one of them looks like a baby monkey.”

“I will take care of it.”

The shocked look on Jay’s face made Willow chuckle. At least he had stopped pacing. He stuttered, “But it’s forbidden unless someone’s life is at stake.”

“I think this qualifies.” She looked grim. “She lost a lot of blood and had some major drugs. He is correct. We need to check on the babies.”

~O~

“Hi, I’m Brittany and I’m here to perform your ultrasound.” Columbine and Willow noticed the ultrasound tech had not looked at them yet. She was concentrating on getting the machine through the narrow doorway.

“Nice to see you again, Brittany.”

Brittany looked up. “Oh my. I didn’t realize you were the tourist that got attacked.”

“A very memorable vacation,” Willow said as Brittany got ready. “Antique explosives and knife attacks.”

Brittany chatted as she prepared the machine. “The cannonballs were dead and they haven’t moved them yet. Talk is, they may build something around them as a historical marker or something.” She turned the machine on to warm up. “That crazy lady that attacked you turned out to be a voodoo priestess on hallucinogens. I am so sorry this happened to y’all. I promise this is not common for Charleston.”

Willow had been using this time to gently probe Brittany’s mind and determine her likelihood of being able to influence her thoughts and actions.

“Let’s get started.” Brittany placed the gel-covered probe on Columbine’s abdomen. “There’s the first baby. Good strong heartbeat and good rate. Good movement.” She moved the probe. “There’s the second baby. Same good heart and movement. Larger than the other one but that is a normal variant. Seems a little blurry.” She adjusted some settings and tried again. “I’m trying to get a clearer picture. This makes the baby look like it is covered in long hair and we know that is not possible.”

Willow knew now was the time to use her powers of influence. “That seems to be clearer now. The baby is not covered in hair. Everything is fine.”

Brittany looked at Willow and her eyes glazed a bit. “That seems to be clearer now. The baby is not covered in hair. Everything is fine.”

“Call the doctor and tell him everything is fine. Use the phone by the door.” Willow spoke in a monotone. 

“I’m going to call the doctor and tell him everything is fine.” 

Brittany rose and crossed the room to use the telephone next to the door. While she talked, Willow used her knowledge gained from Brittany’s memory to erase the entire study from the machine.

~O~

The following day they all went back to Folly Island for one last look at the cannonballs and the impressive dunes created by the hurricanes. Large land movers were getting rid of the dunes, and a ranger told them that the cannonballs were being moved to a museum as a marker would likely be destroyed or damaged by subsequent hurricanes. 

“I love the ocean. The waves, the sounds, the smell, all of it. It’s just amazing.” The weather turned noticeably cooler and the sea and sky were gray on a misty, dreary day. It could be eighty and sunny again tomorrow. You just never knew this far south. Jay turned away from the waves. “But I miss the woods and the familiar scents of home. I want to visit again, but I’m ready to go home.”

“Me too.” Columbine rubbed her belly. “How long will it take to get home with the transpo repaired?”

“About four hours, give or take.”

Columbine relaxed and allowed her mate and mother access to her mind. Both turned amazed faces to her.

“I think I’m in early labor.”

“But, you still have at least six weeks before your due date.” Jay placed a hand on Columbine’s abdomen and felt it harden.

“Tell your babies that.” Columbine spoke through gritted teeth.

As they walked past the road-closed sign and got into the borrowed car, Willow asked, “Have you two named the twins?”

Jay looked at his wife before answering. She nodded. “Yes, we are naming them in honor of this…memorable vacation. She is to be called Jasmine, after the beautiful and sweet smelling Carolina Jasmine, and he will be known as Cypress, after the hardy swamp tree.”

“Good names.” Willow wiped away a tear. She was about to be a grandmother. “Get us home, Jay. We need to get these babies delivered.”

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Lisa Criss Griffin: The Poseidon Pact

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 Poseidon Pact

Lisa Criss Griffin

The artificial coral reef off the coast of Oak Island, N.C. was teeming with nocturnal life. Feathery fingers covering the various corals growing on the sunken trawler waved gently in the soft surges of saltwater. Sponges dotted the reef, hiding sleeping fish from predators. A small octopus quickly changed colors to match the coral around it. The cephalopod’s camouflage was amazingly successful, considering the clientele the reef had drawn that night. Morgan gazed up at the full moon through the clear water, appreciative of the bright illumination of the silvery world under the calm sea. He coasted over the top of the reef, noticing the shapely form of his beloved Maree hovering above him, her beautiful long blonde hair fanning out above her head. 

A pod of spotted dolphins had noticed her too. They approached Maree, clicking and whistling as they playfully swirled around her. Morgan heard her delighted laugh as one friendly fellow played a version of follow the leader with her, matching her, head tilt for head tilt. Both Morgan and Maree had always loved dolphins. Even the juvenile dolphins exuded immense intelligence. All you had to do was look into their eyes to be aware of it…and something else. They were kind. They looked after their own and sometimes others. 

The trauma of an evening of foolishness long ago was forever seared into Morgan’s memory. Dolphins had saved him from certain death that night. His buddies Douglas and Hurley had dared him to float on the surface of the ocean, just beyond the breakers from sunset to moonrise. He was just a young fellow, but certainly old enough to know better. Still, he was an adventurer, and he felt invincible at the time. 

It was a calm evening. The water gently cradled and rocked Morgan as he lay face up on the ocean surface. He recalled the beauty of the scarlet-golden sunset, casting colorful rays across the deceptively still water. The gold-tipped lavender waves close to the shoreline rose, crashed, then slid serenely back down the beach. He could barely make out the scarlet tinted bubbles left trailing behind in the warm, white sand.

The tranquil water beneath him unexpectedly exploded into a roiling froth. Morgan felt something smooth and rubbery slide underneath him, tossing him upward, out of the ocean! The impact thrust him sideways into the air, seconds before a large, gaping maw of serrated teeth sliced through the empty patch of water he was just thrown from. Morgan froze in the water a mere fifteen feet away, watching in horrified fascination as his rescuers surrounded the predator. Intense whistles, aggressive clicking, and sounds of multiple thuds filled his ears. The pod of dolphins rammed the shark relentlessly. The ocean was a boiling cauldron of fins, bubbles and large, rubbery bodies pounding the predator harshly, driving the shark away from its intended prey. Needless to say, after that experience, nobody was a bigger fan of dolphins than Morgan.

The distant purr of a ship’s motor brought Morgan back to the present. Both the dolphins and Maree turned towards the approaching sound, curious as to why such a powerful boat was running so close to shore at this time of night. The commercial traffic was either already in port or anchored at sea, awaiting instructions from the port authorities. Due to the heavy military presence in these waters from the base up the coast, Morgan doubted the ship was foreign. 

The engine slowed and idled. The sound of a hefty chain rattled ominously, then stopped as the anchor plunged into the sand. The running lights were off, or at least not visible. Maree looked over to Morgan and shrugged. She turned to resume her play with the dolphins, but they had lost interest and were searching for snacks in the reef. 

Maree swam towards Morgan, rejoining him above the reef. The normal chatter of fish and aquatic mammals suddenly went silent. Something was wrong. A percussive sonic blast rolled them both beyond the sunken trawler towards the shore. They grasped their heads in agony. Intense vibrations sizzled through their bodies, convulsing them both as they spun helplessly above the floor of the ocean. Morgan collided with one of the dolphins. Their eyes met for an instant before the dolphin rolled away. The fear and agony in the dolphin’s eyes matched his own. Morgan was aware of being caught up in the pull of the surf, but he was completely disoriented. As he slowly regained the use of his body, he struggled to make his way back to the relative safety of the reef. 

The next thing he recalled was the grating of sand on his belly as the waves washed him up onto the shore. The world was spinning before his eyes. He closed them to avoid being sick. Another wave rolled in. Something slid up close to him in the surging water, bumping his arm. He looked quickly, nausea clenching his belly. It was Maree. He grabbed her and held on to her, pulling her close to him when the next wave flowed over their bodies. 

“Maree….”

She groaned, afraid to open her eyes. Soft whistles of distress drifted past the couple. The pod of dolphins was beached along with them! Their poor friends. They would be helpless until the tide came back in. At least it was night and the sun wouldn’t burn their rubbery skin. Morgan lay heavily in the sand, his arm wrapped around Maree, clasping her mottled blue body to his own. They had no choice. They would have to wait for the painful effects of the sonic blast to resolve enough for them to help their friends back into the ocean at high tide. Morgan closed his eyes, praying to his Creator for mercy on them all. He finally succumbed to the welcome relief of unconsciousness…unaware of the passage of time.

~ooOoo~

The dim light of dawn was all Billy and Baxter Erwin had been waiting for. They carried their fishing poles, tackle box, and bait bucket down the short strip of road that led to the entrance to the beach at the point. Sometimes they were early enough to watch the fishing boats make their way past the end of the island, out into the cobalt blue ocean. The young brothers spent almost every waking hour on the beach, fishing, hunting for shells or just exploring. 

Billy was older and was required to keep his cell phone with him so he could check in with their parents regularly. He had discovered a love for photography and was always looking for things to photograph and video if the fishing was slow. Baxter was several years younger and was happy digging holes and poking various things with the long, stiff reeds that were strewn across the sand.

The boys unloaded their fishing gear at their usual spot. Seagulls swirled overhead, hovering above the young anglers in their eternal quest for a free meal. The boys sat on the sand as they chose the proper weights and hooks for their morning fishing. The gulls moved on, too impatient to wait for them to pull out their bait. Billy and Baxter stopped what they were doing to watch a shrimper navigate through the channel towards the open ocean. The men on the boat waved to the boys, having seen the little fishermen there many times over the last few years.

“Look! There’s Captain Redbeard and his mates Pegleg Pete and Pirate Joe!”

The boys waved back enthusiastically. They had no idea what the seamen’s real names were, so they gave them fun-sounding names that only the two of them knew. They continued to wave and watched the boat head out to sea. 

“Hey, Billy. What is all that stuff on the beach over there?”

“Hmmmm? Over where?”

“Around the bend a little. Don’t you see it?”

“Yeah. That is strange, Baxter. Wonder what it is?”

“Maybe a pirate ship washed in overnight!”

“Maybe…do you want to go see what it is before we start fishing?”

Baxter nodded his head enthusiastically and found a long, sturdy reed…good for poking things with. Billy removed the cartons of shrimp pieces from the plastic bait bucket, placing them in the shade of the dune behind their fishing poles. Their fishing poles were already upright in the pole holders driven down in the sand. Billy joined Baxter, the empty bucket swinging in his hand. One never knew…they might find something collectible. The boys made their way down the beach, noticing it was close to high tide. They had to walk single file between the dunes and the strip of beach that was yet unclaimed by the water for a short way. The beach widened out as they rounded the bend. Billy ran into Baxter, who had stopped dead in his tracks.

“Oh no! Look at all the dolphins. They are stranded. The poor things! Can we help them, Billy?”

“Maybe. Look how dry their skin is. We need to wet them down and get some help for them.”

“I love dolphins! What do you think happened to them?”

“I don’t know. Let’s wet them down and then we can decide what to do next.”

“Okay, Billy!”

The boys started with the dolphins closest to them. Billy poured water over the animals and Baxter spread the liquid over their rubbery skins, murmuring encouragement to the stranded mammals. They had doused the last dolphin when Baxter noticed something else a little farther down the beach. Billy had gotten his phone out and was taking video of the dolphins to send to their parents. Baxter picked up his reed and began walking down the beach.

“Hey Baxter! Where are you going?”

“There is something else down here. Come on!”

Billy sent the video to his parents along with a quick text, before catching up with his brother. They approached a couple of elongated, mottled blue lumps partially buried in sand. The curiosity of the brothers outweighed their caution. Part of the colorful heap had long blonde hair fanned across it. The tide was beginning to wash up over the end of the iridescent blue figures. 

Baxter poked the side of the closest blue lump gently with his reed. There was no reaction. He poked it again in several places before moving up towards the hairy area. He turned around and looked at Billy.

“I don’t know what this is, Billy. Hey, take a video of me!”

Billy laughed and started the video. Baxter was an interesting kid. He did wonder what in the world Baxter had found. A large wave rolled up the beach and splashed over the iridescent blue mass. Baxter poked the lumps through the silvery blonde hair with his reed. 

A mottled blue man with a large dolphin-like tail and webbed hands unexpectedly rose up from the sand, grabbing the reed from Baxter’s small hand while screaming in an oddly beautiful voice. His large, expressive eyes were a deep cobalt color mixed with flecks of gold. Baxter stumbled backward in surprise and ran for his brother. The merman pulled a lovely female version of himself from the sand and together they rolled over and over into the sea, her long blonde hair floating in the water before disappearing into the gentle waves. The brothers stood together in shock as the video continued filming the ocean, forgotten in Billy’s hand.

“Are you okay, Baxter?”

“Yes. It just, it just…surprised me. It could have hurt me, but it didn’t want to. They just wanted to get away, that’s all. They were really pretty. I liked them. Were they…mermaids, Billy?”

“I think so, but I don’t really know. Sailors used to see them a long time ago. There are a lot of stories about them. We may be the only two people alive who have seen them recently.”

“Wow….”

“I wonder what would happen to them if we told everybody we saw them?”

“Aww, nobody will believe us, Billy!”

“I have them on video, Baxter.”

“Oh yeah? Let me see!!!”

Billy restarted the last video on his phone. The boys watched the whole experience with the mermaids replay before them. 

“They will be hunted down if we show anyone this video, Baxter. They didn’t hurt us. I don’t think we should let people chase them.”

“Yeah, they were nice. We need to protect them.”

“This means we can never tell anyone about them. Not even Mom and Dad. Not ever. Can you, will you agree to keep this secret with me?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Let’s make a pact. A blood pact.”

Billy picked up the reed the merman had thrown on the sand. He broke the end off and pricked his finger and Baxter’s finger. The brothers pressed their fingers together, their secret pact sealed. The boys walked back towards the beached dolphins. 

Their father and mother appeared around the bend on the tiny strip of sand by the dunes. They were followed by a group of officials, who immediately began an organized rescue operation for the dolphins. The boys were allowed to help with the rescue until their mother recognized they were getting tired. The little family made their way back around the point to collect their fishing gear and bait. They trudged back through the sand to the road that led back to their beach house. Somebody had erected a road closed sign, and a military officer was stationed nearby to keep gawkers off the beach until the dolphins were taken care of. 

It wasn’t until years later, that Navy Seals Billy Erwin and Baxter Erwin learned of the Sonic Weapons developed by the military. Records revealed a Sonic Weapon had been tested off Oak Island, N.C. around the time the young brothers found the dolphins, the merman and his mermaid. The secret childhood pact of Billy and Baxter Erwin remains intact to this day.

Copyright © 2020 Lisa Criss Griffin
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