Tag Archives: creative writing

Storytime – A Journey to Jamaica

Caribbean Island 2

The months have rolled by, day after day, and I am still alone. I have only my treasured memories of what used to be, as I gaze out to sea. I am in the most beautiful of locations, I am sure, but I am a prisoner, with no way of escape. I watch the waves lapping at the sandy shore, and my eyes fill with tears once again.

It all seemed so simple, as it was explained to me. For the sum of £1000, the sugar plantation was mine, and the sea voyage to Jamaica was only a trifling thing, hardly to be considered at all. I signed my name, my belongings were loaded aboard the Queen of the Isles, and I set sail from Plymouth on a bright, sunny day. After I had made my fortune in that faraway land, I would return triumphant, taking the beautiful Julianna as my bride. Two short years, they said, and I’d be back.

The sea crossing was hardly a trifle, as I felt that I had been lashed to a cork inside a bucket, and the water in the bucket was being vigorously sloshed by a mad giant. I spent many days holding onto the railing, expelling the contents of my outraged stomach. The sails were going slack one moment, then as they caught the wind, they sounded like cannon fire, booming all round me. My misery was complete, as we dropped precipitously down the face of one huge wave, then struggled up the face of the next, endlessly.

The captain and first mate were fighting the wind and the waves, hurling commands at the exhausted crew as the storm worsened. Great volumes of water were coming aboard, and the masts were groaning and complaining at the strain. Men who had to go aloft were taunting death, and two of them met that reaper as they fell from the shrouds, falling with the top foresail, crumpling onto the oaken deck. Their screams as they fell are with me still.

There were few passengers on this small ship, and for the most part they stayed below, in the faint hope that they’d be safe there – warm, dry, protected. At one point a woman came running out onto the deck from below, and we could clearly see that she was mad with fear. She was instantly drenched when she came up, her wild hair was streaming in the wind, and her face was a crazed mask, with large, rolling eyes. She looked across at me, where I was feebly holding to the foot of the mast, then she tottered, danced a bit on the wet, sloping deck, then she was over the side, gone as if by magic. I could hardly believe it – was it a dream?

Just then, a man, perhaps her husband, came running up from below, shouting and wailing, but we could not understand him over the shrieking winds. He was clawing at his face, twisting about, fighting the wind and the water, and hardly a moment later he, too, was over the side.  The door to the lower cabins was banging in the wind, back and forth, perhaps calling the people below, beckoning to them, and urging them on deck. Madness, everywhere.

Then, amazingly, the storm began to intensify. The ship rolled frighteningly from side to side, the tips of the masts barely clearing the wave tops, as we held on tightly. The captain himself was manning the wheel, and the first mate was aloft, trying to reef the mainsail, hoping to gain some control. I looked up, trying to gauge his progress, wondering if I could be of aid, but just then the mainmast snapped in two, with no warning at all, and the remaining men fighting the sails were tossed into the sea. The top of the mast was hanging over the side, held by the remaining lines that had not parted, but soon it was swept away, trailing behind us in the raging water. Some few men holding on to it disappeared in the darkness, lost in the maelstrom.

The captain and a couple of other men ran to the side rail, trying to chop loose the remaining wreckage trailing by the rope ends, trying to prevent them from dragging us into the depths. Just as they were starting to make some headway on that problem, the second mast came down, barely missing them, but causing a new tangle of ropes to be chopped away.  They were still hacking with their axes and hatches, some trying to use their knives, but it was a mighty task, and they seemed to be losing. The ship was tilted toward the stern, and was taking on more and more water, getting more and more sluggish among the giant waves. Many of those huge waves were now crashing entirely across the width of the ship, striking the men, taking them one by one over the side to join their lost shipmates. I gazed in horrified fascination.

There was a new sound now, adding to the cacophony, a booming, crashing sound, somewhat reminiscent of the noise of the sails in the wind, but this had a deeper, stronger bass note. It was rhythmic, pulsing, reverberating in my chest with its power. I struggled, trying to get up, desperate to discover the source of this new assault on my senses. I pulled myself upright against the base of the shattered mast, casting my eyes all about, trying to see through the wind-blown rain, fighting to stay on my feet on the slippery, tilted deck.

There was a momentary lull in the wind and rain, and I could now see what was generating the new symphony of horrible sounds. Our ship was being driven onto the rocks of some unknown shore, inexorably pulled, drawn into the maw of death itself. I stood, transfixed, by this time alone on the deck. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, didn’t know what to do. I looked into the eyes of the Reaper, as he reeled me in. I closed my eyes and sagged to the deck, accepting my fate.

So, I am gazing out to sea again, hoping for I know not what, but still hoping. I have found abundant food here, and I’ll likely last for years, but… do I want to? I have no companionship, no love, no Julianna. Of what shall I dream?

Storytime – The Plan

Another Writing Exercise………

The prompt:

In the gathering dusk, you are wandering aimlessly down street after street, trying to get your bearings. Something has happened to you, but you’re not sure what it was.  You have a throbbing headache and there’s blood on your sleeve, likely from your head wound.  You don’t know where you are, or quite where you should be going.  A search of your pockets produces a matchbook from “The Jolly Pirate” club, no address.  You also have a note with instructions, “Don’t forget to tell Andre about the plan – he’ll be at the hotel Olympia in the lobby at 7PM.”  Who’s Andre? Who wrote the note? “The Jolly Pirate”? What’s going on?

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The Plan

4176084-Old-City-Streets-0

First things first, always the best start. So, where am I? What city is this – it all looks so strange. I’m wandering, block after block, taking random turns. There are no street signs here, so for now, I have no hints about which country this might be.
The streets have been empty of people and cars, but finally I saw a taxi, and flagged him down. After getting into the back seat I still had a problem; I couldn’t understand the driver. After repeated attempts at communication, I mentioned ‘Hotel Olympia’, his eyes lit up a bit, and off we went.
As we pulled up in front of the hotel, I was relieved to see everything presented in English; the hotel name, the newspapers in the rack, the taxi stand signs. Well, that was a relief – apparently my driver was the one with the language problem, not me. I stepped out of the cab, wondering how I was going to pay the driver, and the doorman said, observing my efforts to magically find money, “Mr Edwards, so nice to see you again. Shall I pay the driver for you, and have the amount added to your bill?” I could have kissed his feet. “Yes, yes,” I replied, and practically bounded into the hotel.
At the desk, I was greeted warmly by name, again, and the desk clerk continued, “We have you down for your usual room, sir. Is your baggage coming later?” I nodded, and he handed me the key to room 724. Maybe 724 was my lucky number or something. Well, things were looking up, somewhat. I now had a name, and a place to stay while I sorted this out. For some reason, I avoided spilling my whole story to the desk clerk, choosing to find out what I could on my own.
Next morning, in my room, I did a little detective work. The first thing I found on my little desk was a small stack of brochures, and the top one read, “Things to do in Charleston.” Bingo! But, I wondered why I was here, and, oh by the way, ‘Who is Mr Edwards?’. I can answer, ‘Me!”, but that’s of little help right now. There is also a phone directory, and I found a ‘Jolly Pirate’ club listed. It’s described as a ‘Fun Place on the Riverfront’. A quick call to the front desk, and I now knew that ‘the riverfront’ was only a few blocks away, an easy stroll.
I proceeded cautiously down to the lobby, and upon entering, I took a seat near the elevator and did some ‘people watching’. I had no idea what Andre looked like, so I was really just putting myself out there so this mystery person could find me. After an hour or so, I gave up and headed toward the revolving door.
Outside, dusk had overtaken the city, and it was a pleasant evening in Charleston. Now there were people everywhere, and this was somehow comforting. Earlier, I felt I was trapped in a dreamworld, devoid of people, but now I was just another tourist, out to enjoy The Riverfront, wrapped in the anonymity of the crowd. It was time find out just how jolly this Pirate might be.
After only a block or so, I got the feeling that I was being followed. It’s hard to say how I knew, but yes, there he was, a fellow in a white suit, and matching white fedora, and he would periodically duck into a convenient doorway to avoid my searching glances. Could it be Peter Lorre, or ‘Our Man in Havana’? Yes, I like old movies. Hey, that’s something at least – I have memories of watching black and white movies. I stepped quickly into a doorway myself, and waited.
He passed within easy reach, so I reached out and grabbed him, rather forcefully, right about where his tie was knotted, and slammed him into the corner of the doorway. Apparently, this sort of thing comes naturally to me, as Mr Edwards. I wonder if I have other names. He was struggling, but since I my right hand was holding his shirt collar in an iron grip, and my left forearm was pressed against his throat, he couldn’t get much done except cough and sputter. He started to flail his arms, but more forearm pressure settled him right down, and he relaxed, somewhat.
Maintaining the right amount of pressure, I let him talk. He was angry, no big surprise, and he said, “It’s Andre, you fool! What are you doing?”
Amiably, I asked, “Well, why didn’t you contact me in the hotel lobby, instead of following me?”
He scowled, and said, “You were supposed to find me in the bar, and when you didn’t do that, I found you and followed to see where you were going. Are you working both sides of the street?”
I leaned in harder and said, “I think maybe I’ll just kill you, and wonder about you later. I’m already tired of your attitude!”
He flailed some more, and I relaxed just a bit. This time, he was less strident when he whispered, “Ok, ok – let’s start over. What are you doing? Have you forgotten this plan entirely? We need to team up and go to the Pirate, then we can get the Maltose Falcon. Why anyone would want a stupid bird made of pressed sugar, I don’t know, but that’s what they are paying us for. Here, this is your part of the money, just like you said, $5000.”
My memory was starting to come back now, and the ‘plan’ was coming back to me, after his prompts. Yes, I was to accompany Andre to the ‘Jolly Pirate’, pick up our two helpers, and then we’d head over to Sullivan’s Island, to a place called ‘Poe’s Tavern’. There we’d find Big Nose Johnny, who apparently was blessed with a king-size proboscis. Big Nose was in the way now, and we were to ease him out of the picture.
One memory I was still missing – my motivation for doing all this. It might have made sense before my mystery injury, but now I just had a bad taste in my mouth, and a foul odor in my nose. This whole thing smelled, and I decided to cut my losses and slip away.
I released Andre, and he slumped against the door. I slapped him twice, quickly, and a cut opened up on his cheek. He winced and shrank back.
I leaned in close and said, “I remember now, you’re the one who clocked me with that baseball bat, and I won’t be forgetting you. Steer clear of me from now on, or you’ll be real sorry!” He drew back even more, nodding and sniveling.
I walked away, waiting for my memories to finish filling in, if indeed they would, but for now, back to room 724 for some rest and reflection. And, time to make a new plan.

Storytime – Strange Woods

Here’s another Writing Exercise I submitted for one of my writing groups:
(p.s. ever want to try some writing, but don’t know where to get started? Leave me a note in the comments below).

Writing Prompt:

You’re enjoying a quiet evening at home, but then you hear a scratching sound at your front door. Upon opening the door you discover an unfamiliar dog there, and the dog seems agitated. You turn on your porch light, and then step out onto the porch to see if you can determine the dog’s owner. As you are examining the collar of the dog, you find a piece of paper tucked in and held with a piece of string. It is a note, and on it there is a hand-drawn picture of a house with an oddly-shaped roof with several gables, and below that it reads, “I may be in danger – I think there is a …..”.
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Strange Woods
cottage

I’ve only been in my new place for about seven months, but now that I’m here I realize that this is the place I’ve been needing, hungering for. For years I’ve been running inside one of those corporate treadmills, just trying to please my boss, his boss, the company, but now, no more! Yes, I’m in a wheelchair now, but these are wheels I can deal with. My new haven, my cottage in the woods, has the ramps I require and a few extra conveniences that make it possible for me to be here in the woods, away from it all.
With my savings, I had ordered my new house from a catalog, and I was especially taken with the wonderful line of the roof, lots of gables, plenty of character. My contractor assembled the whole thing in a remote spot in the north woods, and now I’m here, listening to the trees grow.belgian malinois My good dog Maximus, whom I chose and named after seeing that Russell Crowe “Gladiator” movie, is my constant companion. He is a Belgian Malinois, and has the fierce look I wanted that might dissuade evil-doers out in my part of the lost woods. Sometimes, when I talk to him, he has a set to his head that makes me think he might understand me. Maximus loves to roam, and I’ve let him out to follow his nose whenever he wanted, so he could satisfy his canine curiosity and get some additional exercise. He always returned, and I know he enjoyed his outings. Also, I have a path through my woods that is wheelchair-friendly, and Maximus allows himself to be leashed up to pull me, which is a great help. I sometimes say, “Mush!” when he’s pulling me, and he’ll usually just give me that, “What the hell are you talking about” look, but he just keeps on with the job.
Just recently I started a new project, and I’m kinda excited about it. I never really considered myself a writer, although I’ve dabbled in short stories and the like, but now I have launched my novel. The idea has been rattling around in my head for some time, although I never actually used the ‘novel’ word when I thought about it. But now, I’m doing it, and it feels good! This quiet environment really does allow me to lose myself in thought without interruption. Maximus helps by lying on his comfy rug in front of the hearth, thinking about the novel he may write someday. We are quite the team, I must say. I wonder who’ll get published first?
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was busily typing away when I heard a rustling noise outside – not loud, but just enough to get my attention. It was like something was skittering across my wooden porch, something with claws, something that sounded very much like a dog. The odd thing was, Maximus didn’t seem to be alarmed at all, and he hardly moved until he saw me roll back from my keyboard. He came over to me and looked at me, as if asking, “Time for a trip down the path? I need to catalog some new smells.” I sat still where I was, listening intently, but heard nothing further. I rolled slowly back to the table.T-rex5
A few days later, it happened again. This time I was in the kitchen, trying to assemble some lunch, which always mesmerizes Maximus. Just because I dropped a small piece of chicken one time, he thinks I’ll be doing it as a part of my routine always. I paused at the noise, straining to see through the thin curtains toward the porch, but I saw nothing. The noise quit as suddenly as it began. I sat there like a statue, wondering if I should be alarmed. I do have a ham radio set up, in case of emergencies, but I didn’t have any real evidence yet, just those noises on the porch. Maybe it’s a playful wolf cub, or maybe….. hmmmm, I just don’t know.
Autumn was in full swing now, and those few deciduous trees in the woods were shedding tremendous quantities of leaves. I was not able to rake the ones in my yard, so I didn’t worry about them – they’d decompose on their own, anyway. There were leaves gathering on my porch, also, but the wind should disperse those without problem. But, three nights ago, I heard something on the porch crunching around in the leaves, and there were a few tentative scratches on my front door. I managed to get from my bed to the wheelchair, but by the time I got to the door, I saw nothing. Maximus was at my side as I surveyed the dark yard, but his hackles were not up, so I got us back inside and locked the door.
A couple of nights ago, there was something on the front porch again, and I also heard similar noises from the piled-up leaves near the back door that had been put there by the swirling winds. Now I was wishing I had put in those security lights, but it was too late now. I resolved to keep my big flashlight by the door, and I also put my heavy pistol there, just in case. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure I could dispatch it, if necessary.
Last night, more noises, front and back, and this time, Maximus wanted out, so I let him – it was time for him to earn his keep as my protector. He didn’t seem alarmed, just curious, so I wasn’t worried either. I only got worried when I happened to notice that my pistol was gone from the table near the door. The flashlight was still there, but no gun. I had either had a burglar, which didn’t seem likely, or my dog had taken the gun somewhere and hidden it. Why would he do that? I was getting nervous now, as the noises increased outside, with no sounds from Maximus, who could be quite the barker.
I rolled to the door, picked up the flashlight, opened the door quietly, and went out onto the dark porch. Moving as surreptitiously as possible, I switched on the flashlight and saw them.
In my yard were scores of young men, dressed in dark slacks, white shirt and tie, and carrying copies of “The Book of Mormon.” They sat on their bicycles, staring at me with empty eyes. Nervously, I called to Maximus. I saw him there, right in the front row, but he was reluctant to come. Did they have some strange power over my dog? At last he came, tail between his legs, and the two of us went back inside. I slammed the door and hurriedly penned this note and tied it to his collar:
“I may be in danger – I think there is a missionary invasion going on at my place, and I don’t have any money to appease them. Help!”
I pushed Maximus out the back door, possibly tearing the note in the process, but I got him going. I hope he finds someone to save me from this hell.

Storytime – another Writing Exercise “The Old Desk”

temple

 

Prompt:

The moving van is gone now, and the old desk, actually a type of desk called a secretary, is now in your den. Many times over the years you had seen your grandfather at that desk, working on correspondence or household finances, and it always seemed to be a thing of mystery – all those little pigeon holes, all those bits of rolled-up paper. The other kids liked running and playing on the old tire swing, but for you it was sitting at the desk, imagining great things. And, now…. it is yours.

Now, the mystery has come home to roost, because you have found a small secret drawer containing tantalizing pieces of a family puzzle. There are a few pages torn from a diary, where the writer, an unidentified young woman, describes a secret rendezvous with her lover. Also, there are a few old photographs, perhaps from the 40’s, of a young man, perhaps Grandfather, in various poses. There are no photos that might be Grandmother – was Grandfather perhaps indiscreet? Did Grandfather remove the diary pages? And, what is the significance of the locket in the drawer?

I decided it was time to put on my ‘detective hat’ to try to unravel this enigma. Surely there was something in the diary pages or perhaps there in the photographs that could point the way. And, that locket – it resisted my initial efforts, but finally it opened, revealing a small woman’s ring, with a French postage stamp stuck to it, wrapped around the band. Inside the gold band, I could just make out the inscription, “To my Effie”.

For now, the ring could wait. I laid out the photographs, three of them in all, and used Grandfather’s magnifying glass to examine them closely, trying to locate clues. The first photograph was the worst of them, poorly exposed and somewhat out of focus. I leaned down and peered at it, section by section, but was unable to find anything of real interest. It was the image of a young man, but it would be difficult to say who it might be, due to the poor quality of the shot. There was a large structure in the background, but even though it was evocative, I could not place it. I pushed Number 1 aside and pulled Number 2 over for my perusal.

 

The photo showed a young man, again, and this time I could see certain characteristics that led me to the assumption that it was indeed Grandfather. His high cheekbones and distinctive ‘widow’s peak’ hairline was pretty much proof positive. He was posed with one foot placed upon the step of a small conveyance, oh what was it called, yes, a rickshaw. How had I not noticed it before? Perhaps the thing blended in too well with the background, so a casual look wouldn’t reveal it. A rickshaw – now where could this have been? Somewhere in Asia, most likely. The photograph was a street scene, with buildings crowding in all around, with only a few in the distance sticking up to form a skyline. One of those had the look of a pagoda, but very tall and slender. Shanghai, or Hong Kong? Not enough evidence to say. Enough of Number 2, now for the last.

Number 3 was the best of them, and I was prepared to spend even longer with it, slowly examining every square millimeter. The same man, presumably Grandfather, was seen seated at a table of an outside cafe, or bistro. I leaned down once again, squinting and slowly moving the glass. After an hour or so I was rewarded with my best clue. In the middle distance was a sign in French that read, ‘Something something Indochine’. From my limited knowledge of that language, I deduced that the photograph must have been taken in Indochina, perhaps in Tonkin, now known as Hanoi, or in Saigon. The French stamp in the locket was certainly a good link, since that part of the world was under French rule at the apparent time of the old photographs.

Well, now I knew the approximate time period, and I knew that the man in the photos was Grandfather, but who was the author of the diary entries? It was likely Effie, but who was she, really? Time for some more modern research, so I pulled out my laptop and started punching in questions. I wasn’t having much luck at first because I didn’t know my grandmother’s full name. Hmmm, how could I figure this out? Was she Effie?

Then I remembered a family Bible that had been inside one of the drawers of the secretary. The first page was pre-printed as a family tree, with blanks for all the relatives. At the top there was space for two names to represent the start of the tree, and there I found Grandfather’s name, right alongside his wife’s full name, “Anastasia Euphenia Archambault”. His birthplace had been filled in as “Vienna, Austria”, and hers as “La Rochelle, France”. I had no idea that I was part of such an international family!

I tried again to use the internet to tie some of this together, and I learned that “Effie” was a nickname for many given names, one of them “Euphenia”. Bingo! It was her ring! I was quite happy, but I still wanted to know about the diary pages.

I re-read the torn-out pages, but still could not find any link to the ring or the photographs. I resolved to read them one last time, slowly, measuring each reference to place or person. It was then that I finally realized that the young woman had been using a secret special name for her lover, and I had thought it was the name of a place. She had written several times that she loved “Renault”, but at first that meant nothing, since I assumed it was a village name, but I could not locate such a village in my researches.

I went back and looked again at Grandfather’s full, legal name, “Auguste Renoir Baptiste”, and then I realized that Effie had twisted his name slightly to keep her references guarded within her diary, in case someone came snooping. Grandmother was the author, and there was no mystery woman!

I decided not to share any of this with family, lest they come to a different conclusion. I honored the memory of Grandmother and Grandfather by keeping it to myself and cherishing the thoughts of their love that spanned the world.

 

Storytime – A Night in Clanton, Alabama

old hotel

The writing prompt:

You’re on a long auto trip, heading down to see Aunt Mabel in Panama City, Florida.  It’s been a long, hard drive down I65, but you’re halfway through Alabama now, and in the home stretch. About this time, steam erupts from under the hood and there’s also a terrific howling sound coming from the engine. Some hours later, you find yourself in Clanton, Alabama, checking in to a ‘low rent’ hotel to wait out the repairs. You collapse into bed and pass out.  Later in the night, you awaken suddenly, and you’re confused at first – strange room, strange bed…. and, what woke you up?  As you sit in the bed, gathering your thoughts, you hear the sobs of a little girl, accompanied by the low growls of an animal. You rush to the window, look outside.  The street light has everything illuminated, but there is nothing to see.  You quickly check outside your door in the hallway – nothing. The sobs start again, seeming to come from inside the wall by the door.  What’s going on here?

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A Night in Clanton, Alabama

In the morning light, it seems that this was all just a dream, perhaps bordering on a nightmare, although there was no feeling of fear during the episode. Even so, I wonder, “Is this place haunted? How old is the building, anyway? What’s its history?”

So, a hike to the library is in order. But, I certainly have the time – it’ll be three days before the car is repaired, so why not? After a quick chat with the librarian, I wind up with one big reference book that just might cast some light on this – “A History of Clanton, Alabama, Including its Ghost Stories”.

Well, this was going to be easy. Unsettling, perhaps, but easy. But, after an hour of reading, nothing has turned up about the building itself, since it is only twenty-eight years old, and the book doesn’t say what was on this site before the building went up. Maybe time to stroll the neighborhood.

Fortunately, Clanton is not that big a place, which is fortunate, since the car is still up on the rack down at the service station. Nice day for a walk, so off I go. It’s a quiet neighborhood, with the storybook white picket fences, roses twisting around arbors, wisteria in glorious bloom, and a few folks sitting on porches, or getting in some yard work.

As I slowly walk along, wishing for a stick to run along the pickets, I wave at a few folks, speak to a couple more, just pleasantries. Then, I catch sight of an older denizen of Clanton – a spry old lady coming down the sidewalk toward me, almost creating a wake as she barrels my way. I step aside as she nears, then say, “Pardon me, but have you lived in this area long?”

She pulled up short, peering at me suspiciously, then asks, “Why’d ya wanna know?”

“So sorry, ma’am, I was just being friendly, and was looking for a little local history information. You looked like one of those friendly locals, so I thought I’d risk it.”

Her face relaxed a little, but her sharp eyes still had me pinned. “Humphhh, what kinda information, anyway? Are you sniffing out the dirt on my friends? If so, you can fergit it, Bub! I ain’t a gossip, no siree!”

I try again. “No ma’am, nothing like that. I was just wondering if you remember any stories from long ago, maybe about a missing child that never showed up, that kinda thing. No names required, if you’d prefer. I just had one of those ‘haunting’ experiences down at the hotel, and was trying to see what I could find out.”

Now a smile actually began to form on her deeply lined face. “Well, why didn’t you say so at the start? Come on down here to my place – we’ll set out on the porch with some iced tea and swap tales, whaddya think? It’s right over there, number 425.”

A little while later, after introductions and the pouring of iced tea, I sat on a comfortable chair on Lettie Ferguson’s big front porch. We were both apparently having just tea, but it’s just possible she slipped some peach schnapps in there, because it was very pleasant tea, indeed! After she had quickly guzzled a large glass of tea and poured herself another, she became quite garrulous, indeed!

Lettie continued, “Yep, it was back in ’27, I think, that one of the local chilluns went out to play, maybe wandered off into the woods, and just flat never came back. She had her big ole dog with her, so we always thought that she was protected, but whatever happened, that dog just couldn’t save the day. Nope, Agnes Murphy stayed gone. The state troopers came, there were lots of volunteers in the search party, too, but nothing ever came of it. No bits of clothing, nuttin’ at all.”

I pressed a little bit, and asked, “And there were no suspicions raised, no rumors of strangers in town, hobos in the woods, anything like that? Strange that she should just evaporate like that.”

Lettie took another long pull on her tea, eying the pitcher for her next refill. “Sorry, that’s all that ever came of it. I wish I had more, but I guess that’s about all. I’ve enjoyed our little chat, would you like to stay for dinner?”

I apologized, making up an excuse about important phone calls to be made, then thanked her and went back to the main part of town, looking for a newspaper office. No luck on that quest, so I went back to the library and pestered the lady about back copies of area papers. Bingo! They had microfilms of old papers that went clear back to the early 1900’s. I requested 1927 and then settled in at the viewer station with the spool of microfilm.

After an hour or so, I had found the news item about the missing child and the subsequent uproar and numerous search parties. After a few weeks, the stories dwindled away, since there were no new facts in the case. It was as Lettie had said, the girl wandered off, big dog in tow, and was never seen again.

Next morning, I decided to take a walk in the woods. I knew it had already been combed time and again, but it was something to kill the hours while I waited on the service mechanic to apply the defibrillator, or whatever they do.

I walked slowly along, eyes and ears attuned to try to find something that might bring the little girl from out of the darkness. I don’t know how many hours I wandered the forest trails, nibbling on my sandwiches and sipping my water, but it was a cool day and the hiking felt good. I found a wide spot on one of the trails and sat down on a big flat rock and brought out my water bottle again as I took a breather.

I was aware that the forest had become very, very quiet – no bird sounds, no droning insects, even the noises of the breeze were stilled. I lay down on the big rock and closed my eyes for a bit, then fell fast asleep. As I slept, I dreamed of little Agnes and her big, faithful dog. I had one dream sequence where she crept up to me and tapped me lightly on the shoulder and whispered to me, “I’m here. Don’t give up. Listen for Rex, he’ll point the way.”

I jerked awake, sitting straight up on the rock. I don’t know how long I had been there, but the quiet remained. I strained my senses, hoping to see or hear something. I was about to pack it in and head back to the hotel when I heard the faint noise of a large canine, either dog or wolf, making whimpering noises. I slowly rotated my head, trying to pinpoint the location of the sounds. The animal was somewhere directly off to my left, so I stood quietly and walked slowly in that direction, senses still highly tuned. I walked about a hundred yards, still hearing the whimpering noises from time to time, then came across a large tree with a tangled outgrowth of roots at its base, looking almost like a cage at the bottom of the massive tree. I leaned into the darkness, finally having to use my flashlight, and was able to make out the form of a small child’s skeleton, and nearby the skeleton of a good-sized dog, with one of its legs placed over the child in a protective pose. The whimpering sounds had ceased as I approached the tree base. I guess the faithful spirit of the dog had done its job, led me there, and then was able to finally still its voice.

A week or so later, Lettie called me to pass along the thanks of the townspeople, and to let me know that a special marker would be placed in the town cemetery that recounted the story of Agnes’ disappearance and eventual discovery. Rex would receive full credit in the story.

 

Storytime – another Writing Exercise, aka *really* short story – Mystery Package

The prompt:

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-brown-package-parcel-twine-image5898731

Lunchtime, the usual rush to the elevators, the rush out onto the street, deciding at the last minute, which restaurant. You decide to check out the new place. You grab a small booth, place your order, and before your food even arrives, someone else shows up, wanting to share the booth. You motion them in, and exchange pleasantries. The other person, a young bearded guy, seems ill at ease about something, his eyes keep shifting about, and he is generally nervous. All at once he sees something through one of the windows to the street and jumps up, shouts, “Here, this is for Tomas!”, tossing a small package at you across the table as he runs toward the back. As he flees, there is a commotion at the front of the restaurant when several uniformed policemen come in, arrive at your booth, then run toward the back when you gesture that way. You glance down at the small package in your hands, and see that is is stamped, “RUSH – Medical Supplies”.
What’s going on? Why are the police chasing this guy? Who’s Tomas? What could be in the package?

My take on the story:

I continue to sit in the booth, stunned into immobility. Everything has happened so quickly I’ve hardly had time to process it. The waitress has brought my banh mi, and I absentmindedly munch on the sandwich, hardly tasting it. She brings around a refill for my hot tea, and as she leaves, a young woman slips into the booth, opposite me. She whispers, “Do you have the package? I know I’m late, but this is the right booth, I know it. Do you have it?”
I’m starting to add all this up, and so far, I’m getting “2+2=7”. Very puzzling.
She seems agitated, says, “Tomas is very sick, getting weaker. Why do you delay? We paid the money, now we need the serum!”
I looked around, checking the other patrons, but no one seemed to be interested in us. I leaned forward, asking, “What is wrong with Tomas? How do I know he’s supposed to get this stuff?” I was trying to pry loose a few facts here – was this for a rare, contagious ebola-like disease, or did Tomas just have the mumps? Should I quickly leave, or should I turn over the package?
She looked at me, quizzically. “Hey, are you trying to change the deal? It’s done, all taken care of, so hand it over, now!” Her purse was in front of her on the table, and she quickly slipped her hand inside, but just paused there, waiting to see what I’d do.
I slowly spread my hands wide, to either side of me, indicating (hopefully) that I was no threat, ,and to just take it easy. She relaxed, just a bit, but kept her hand inside the purse.
“I didn’t get the whole story, so I was just wondering about the background here.”
She hissed, “You don’t need ‘background’, Bozo, just”, she was speaking forcefully now, “give me what I came for!” Again with the hand movements inside the purse, but more nervously now.
“Surely you can see my side of this, “ I argued, reasonably, I hoped, “this could be a sucker deal. I hand it over and eighteen cops rush to the table. Maybe you’re wired, and maybe there’s a big van out there with guys wearing headphones and doodling pictures of me behind bars.”

film_noir
I don’t know why I was being hesitant, really. I should just hand over the package, just as she said. Why was I even doing this? Maybe I’d seen too many detective shows on tv, too many drug deals played out, too many gunfights. Was I crazy? Surely I knew the possible consequences. I guess, because I’m a writer, I just wanted to know more.
I couldn’t believe myself as I said, probably risking at least a smash in the face, “Hey, how about I come along, see what’s going down here? Then I can be sure that there really is a sick person at the center of this, and you’re not just another junkie needing this rocket fuel for another trip.”
I had unthinkingly placed the package on the table in front of me as I talked, and her eyes locked onto it as she drew the little gun out of the purse. She pointed the gun at me, but concealed it behind the napkin holder so no one else could see what was going on. She gestured that I should slide the package over to her.
I was about to slide it over, as she was demanding, but then I had another thought. I said, “Maybe I could just…”
She stood up, grabbed the package and shot me in the chest, three times quick. She ran out toward the back, just as he had done.
I slumped over, feeling my world drifting away, wondering, “What’s going on? Why are the police chasing this guy? Who’s Tomas? What could be in the package?”

Storytime – What Happened?

(another writing exercise)

The scenario:

I stand, wearing handcuffs, facing the desk sergeant here at the police station, who is asking me questions, and I’m trying to focus so I can answer. It’s 2AM, no rain in the forecast, yet I’m drenched.  Now he’s talking again, “And how is it that we found this revolver in your pocket, yet you claim it’s not yours? And, about the bloody stains on your shirt sleeves?  There was no victim in the apartment, so who’s blood is it? I’m sure there’s a very good reason for the $28,000 in blood-soaked bills you were carrying, so tell me.  What is going on here?”
I wish I knew.

——————

My day started well enough – breakfast with Amy at the Pancake House, followed by a nice drive in the country.  I dropped her off over in Milbourn in time for her work, then I headed back to my place.  I hiked up the four flights of stairs and almost collapsed through the door.  I gotta quit smoking.
I had barely been on the couch for five minutes when somebody knocked on my door, very quietly.  That’s odd, why so soft? Are they afraid I’ll hear, and come to the door? I didn’t bother to check the peephole, because they didn’t sound too threatening – I mean, do the bad guys peck on your door, or do they bang on it?
I opened the door to find Annette, my down-the-hall neighbor standing there, twisting her hands and looking worried. I stepped aside so she could come on in.  I looked around in the hallway, didn’t see anyone lurking, so I closed the door and went to sit beside her on the couch.
“Annette, what’s the problem?”
She said, “Dave, I’m in a real jam.  Can you spare me an hour or two tonight to take me down to the docks?  I have to pick up a friend there, and I don’t have transportation, and cabs are so expensive….”
She said she’d be back around 9PM, and I said that would be fine, since I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
That evening we were driving slowly down dark, deserted streets, looking for an address.  It was cold and foggy, which didn’t help us much.  Again, she apologized, but I just replied, “Hey, now.  What are friends for?” I guess friends are to take advantage of.  Where in the hell were we, and what exactly were we doing here?
I pulled over to the curb and shut off the engine, then turned to her.  “Annette, something seems kinda fishy, as they say here on the docks.  What’s the deal?”
She broke into tears and began sobbing, squeezing out words between sobs, “They’ve got my little sister, and I had to come down here to bring the money.”
“Money, what money?”
“They called early this morning, told me that they had snatched Janie on her way to school, and that I had to bring $40,000 down here tonight or I’d never see her again.”  I knew Tony, Annette’s ex, had been into some shady dealings, and now she might have to suffer for his mistakes.
“How does Tony figure in to this?  Could he be behind it?”  I was really having second thoughts about this whole enterprise now.
Just then, someone yanked the door open behind me and I fell out onto the street.  Annette screamed, as someone else pulled her out the passenger door.  I jumped up as quick as I could and attempted to take a fighting pose, but I was a second or two late.  Whoever he was, he was quick – something slammed into the back of my head and I fell in a heap, losing consciousness on the way to the hard pavement.
I woke up, tied in a chair, soaking wet from the bucket of water that had just been thrown in my face.  Annette was in a nearby chair, tied just as I was.  Things didn’t look good.  There was a hulk of a guy leaning down, peering into my face. “Hey, are you awake now, Sleeping Beauty? We got questions!”  He slapped me, hard.  It felt like all my teeth had come loose at once by that blow from his beefy fist.
The other guy was standing right behind Annette.  He looked just like one of the gangsters who populated those black-and-white films from the 40’s, thin and twitchy.  He had greasy black hair, was dressed in a cheap dark suit, and was sucking on a toothpick.  The one who presently had most of my attention was wearing a mostly white suit, not counting the blood spatters that had presumably came from my recently-acquired bloody mouth.  I couldn’t make out his face very well because of his wide-brimmed Panama hat.
Mr. Question Man leaned in again and got right in my face as he hissed, “Where’s the rest of the money?  I looked in her purse, only found $28,000.  What did you do with the other $12,000?”
I pulled back as far as my bonds let me, but I couldn’t dodge the incoming slap to the face.  This guy really liked slapping people and, he was really good at it. I felt like my eyes were spinning in their sockets.
By this time I was bleeding all over myself as well as on his suit, and was not sure I could have spoken to him if I wanted to, with my lips swelling up so badly.  I tried.
“What money are you talking about?  I’m just the driver here. And, where’s the girl, Janie?”  I closed my eyes.  It didn’t keep him from hitting me again.
Just then the door burst open and four uniformed policemen came rushing into the room.  Both the bad guys were thrown up against the wall and held at gunpoint.  A man in a suit had just come in behind the officers and introduced himself as a detective, as he was freeing us from our ropes.  He had apparently found Janie in an adjoining room, and she stared at me, quivering with fright.
He was saying, “You two come with me – we’ve got questions, and we’re going to the station. You’re lucky we were watching this place, or you might be floating in the harbor right now.”
I thanked him profusely, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to end this story if they hadn’t arrived.
What a relief!