Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Grace in the Morning - part 2

prompt: For Hire | Word Count: 1000 Words | Genre: fiction
Due Feb 26, 2020
Warning: sequel to Jan20 Prompt; reference to human trafficking
 
Grace in the Morning
 
 
Flashing police lights illuminate the rapid events happening outside the dilapidated house on this chilly Monday morning. Deputies manhandle Madam Esther and her thugs out of the house in handcuffs and bruises. Nearby, Grace watches in silence, her attention focused on the girl in the window upstairs, face shiny with tears.
 
Grace should be elated, but all she feels is heart-sore. Memories are surfacing. Suffocating.
 
“Pull yourself together, Grace,” she tells herself sternly, taking several deep breaths, and reminding herself of her duty. “These girls are counting on you. You didn’t come this far to fail them now.”  
 
She’s the one who’d recognized the signs of human trafficking, had informed the Community Coalition, where she volunteered. She’d set this rescue in motion. She nominated herself to be the one to give freedom back to the abused and mistreated girls trapped inside, and to do it in a way that would preserve their dignity and restore hope to their lives.
 
The old Asian woman glares at Grace as if Esther knows she is to blame for her downfall. But she shows no evidence of remorse or regret as the deputy shoves her roughly into the backseat of his police car.
 
Gabriel, senior detective and coalition leader, appears in the doorway of the house. Signals all clear.
 
She makes her way over to the house, climbs up the porch steps to meet him.
 
Behind her, the new guy follows. He’s wearing leather jeans that sag from his hips, black leather vest over white t-shirt. With his bald head and tattoo sleeves, he looks every bit the part he was hired to play, to infiltrate and obtain the final evidence needed to arrest the ring leaders and convict them with a lasting penalty. 
 
Damon’s persona, coupled with the events of the morning, have unleashed memories of Grace’s own bondage and deliverance, three years before. She instinctively shrinks away from him.
 
"You shouldn’t be here," she says firmly. “It’ll be harder on the girls with you here.”
 
Despite his appearance, Grace knows Damon to be a kind-hearted, gentle man. He has two teen-aged daughters himself, and his motivation is only to help. He nods understanding, fades back into the shadows.
 
At the porch landing Gabriel hands her a set of keys. His beguiling eyes hold her a moment, compassion in his steady, tender gaze.
 
“Go on then,” he steps aside, his confidence bolstering her courage. She takes a deep breath and enters the house.
 
She climbs to the second floor, unlocks the first door at the top of the staircase, opens it slowly. She knows not to approach too quickly. Not to touch or initiate physical contact. Grace knows firsthand the horrors she will have suffered from her captors. The difficulties she’ll face in recovery.
 
Morning sunlight streams through the window. Recognition crosses the girl’s face. She launches herself into Grace’s arms, holds on with fierce relief.
 
“I knew you’d come back,” she whispers. “You’re the Angel I saw in the window that day.” 
 
Grace’s arms tighten around her thin frame, faces press together where warm tears mingle.
 
“I knew you’d come back,” she repeated, “I knew it.”
 
Grace made soft, shushing noises, whispered “its okay,” and “you’re safe now,” and “we’re gonna take care of you,” between the girl’s wrenching sobs and declarations of gratitude.
 
At the touch, warmth infuses Grace’s soul, fills her with resolve and strengthens her purpose.
 
“Let’s go free the others, shall we?”
 
~_~
 
 
The assembly room is charged with a sense of accomplishment and pride, triumph and achievement ripples through the crowd. Gabriel watches as glasses of champagne or sparkling cider are distributed to the throng.
 
“Gather around, people," Gabriel raises his voice above the general hubbub of the assembly. It takes several attempts to gain their attention, caught up as they are in reliving the events of the day.
 
“Let me just start by saying how proud I am of each and every one of you. This has been a long, difficult job and by God, you nailed it!" Gabe pauses for cheers and erupting applause to calm down before continuing.
 
“Please, raise your glass and join me in a toast."
 
Light glints off champagne flutes as they’re lifted high in prideful anticipation.
 
"Because of you, nine young girls have been rescued from atrocious conditions.”
 
Whistles and cheers erupt once again, elation and pride swelling the room.
 
"Because of you, another band of human traffickers have been taken off the streets. I promise, they will be punished to the full extent of the law. It's because of you, and the work of our coalition, that we’ve achieved this success. You are all to be commended for a job well done. Thank you, one and all!"
 
Glasses clink and Gabriel joins the company in downing his cider. He speaks a while longer about the importance of their work, the value each team member brings to the coalition, and he applauds them a final time.
 
He scans the room, observing the group as it breaks into smaller clusters, frowning slightly when he sees Grace set her glass on a side table and head for the door.
 
“Grace!” he calls, hurrying to catch her before she leaves. He wants to tell her how grateful he is, how magnificent she’d been in the gentle manner in which she’d treated the rescued girls. How the girls will need her in the coming days and weeks.
 
He knows she knows this, but he wants to tell her anyway. To have a reason to talk with her. To linger in her presence.
 
~_~
 
 
Grace’s heart leaps when Gabriel calls her name. She’s tempted to pretend she hasn’t heard him, to run away instead. But she’s learned to trust this man in the six months they’ve worked together, even to let her guard down in his presence.
 
“Don’t go,” he says, alluring eyes holding her with his steady, tender gaze.
 
She’s afraid, but not of him.
 
Responding to his soft entreaty, she doesn’t run away.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Grace Comes at Night Part 1

prompt: Coalition | Word Count: 1200 Words | Genre: fiction
Due Jan 29, 2020
Warning: Human trafficking

Grace Comes  at Night by Peggy Rockey

Grace came at night. An unlooked for favor I could not have hoped for, nor ever thought deserved.

I saw her from the window of my darkened room upstairs. She was taking pictures of the house from the bottom of the rickety staircase, where moments before I had seen Sammy Scumbag, who’d left the door ajar when he entered. 

She looked like an Angel. Like innocence personified. Standing in the light of the open doorway, her pale skin shimmered with an otherworldly radiance. Blond hair haloed by the light of a nearby street lamp. She wore a green sweatshirt and black jeans, clean and crisp. She was older than me, maybe early twenties. She stood with head held high, shoulders pulled back, legs hip-width apart; projecting confidence and strength, despite her slight frame and thin arms.

I couldn’t fathom why she was here. Did she know what went on in this place? Surely she wasn’t planning on going inside?

I’ve lost track of the number of girls who've passed through these walls in the two years I’ve been here. None of us  had ever come of our own free well. We were taken by force or coercion, secreted into the house in the middle of the night. Five rooms occupied, two girls per room. Except mine, since Raina escaped last week.

But I wouldn’t think about Raina right now, gaining her freedom only to be found murdered the next day.

“Please.” The little voice trembled in fear. “Please, I don’t want to.”

I followed the sound of Marisol’s childish plea with my eyes, landed on the cracked mirror on the dresser by the wall separating my room from hers.

“He’ll hurt me, like last time. Please don’t make me do it again.”

I cringed at the sharp crack of palm against face, instinctively raising my hand to my own swollen cheek, now reflected in the fragmented mirror. I closed my eyes, hating the sight of my own face; wishing I could as easily shut my ears to Mari’s desperate cries.

Madam Esther’s stern voice carried through the wall. “You’ll do as I say, girl, or I’ll have you beaten and locked in your room without supper.”

I could smell the burnt crap she called supper wafting up through the unused heater vent.

“Do that! I don't care.”

Another slap, a stifled cry, and two sets of footsteps making for the stairs.

“Be strong, girl,” Keisha called from her room across the hall. “Don’t let him see your fear.”

Or your shame, I thought, bombarded with memories of Sammy Shithead’s vulgar tendencies. Futility and rage warred inside me. Breathing became suddenly more difficult.

I should have taught Mari how to shield her thoughts, how to go away in her mind until it was over and she was alone again, back in the safety of her room.

Except, the last girl I’d given this advice to had lost herself, and never found her way back. After two weeks of unresponsiveness, Esther had her removed. We dared not ask to where. She’d been replaced with twelve year old Marisol.

The house went quiet after the footsteps receded down the stairs to where the “guest chambers” were located. I turned to look out the window again, just in time to see the Angel take a step closer towards the stairs.

“No! Oh, no! You can’t go in there!”

I would’ve run down the stairs, risking my own safety to warn her off, if I hadn’t already heard Esther lock my door when she passed it by on her way to fetch Mari.

“Go away!” I tried in vain to open the window, though I knew it was sealed tight.

I waved my arms in large motions, hoping to catch her attention, gesticulating wildly at the Angel and willing her to run away while she could.


*_*


Something flashed in Grace’s peripheral vision, above and to her left. A teenaged girl waving frantically, motioning for Grace to go away. She looked worn down, despondent, though Grace sensed a core of defiance that’d kept her from sinking into utter despair.  

Grace knew exactly what the girls in this house endured, having lived through similar circumstances herself. Her heart ached at the memories; for herself and for this girl. She backed away from the open doorway, headed towards the shadows again, where she had hidden for the last three hours to watch the comings and goings of the house. Her job was not to draw attention to herself, but to observe and report her findings.

Once she was partially hidden behind the trash bin and a large, dying tree, she raised her camera and took a closeup of the girl in the window. The teenager kept repeating that shooing motion, clearly warning Grace to go away. To beware of the threat of capture and captivity.

Not gonna happen this time, Grace affirmed to herself, reassured by the feel of the device strapped inside her bra, recording and transmitting her location to the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and the police officers they’d engaged. With her reconnaissance today, she was certain they now had enough evidence to prove there were kids being held here, forced to engage in sex against their will.

Grace gestured to the girl, using hand signals and body language to say “I see you. I’m gonna get you out.”  

She tried to convey a message to let the girl know that she knew what went on in this house and that steps were being taken to free the girls held here; to punish their captors. “Maybe not tonight,” Grace said in body language, not wanting to give false hope, “but soon.”

Someone came to the open doorway, blotting out the light. Grace pushed further back into the shadows, but managed to snap a quick photo. An old Asian woman peered out into the night before closing the door firmly behind her.

Taking this as her cue to go, she repeated the message to the girl in the window and hoped it was understood: “We know you’re here. Tell the others to be ready. I promise. We’re gonna get you out.”

Whether she had understood, Grace couldn’t know. But the girl pressed her palm to the window and nodded. Grace wrapped her arms around herself, pointed to the girl, and passed on a virtual hug that she hoped would touch her soul.

It took all her will to walk away and leave this girl behind. She didn’t know how long it would take to get the warrant, or convince the authorities to make a move. She could only pray it wouldn’t be long. 

*_*


The glass was cold under my palm where I’d left it, as I watched my only link to the outside world disappear down the alley.

I flung myself to the mattress as soon as the Angel was gone from view. Wrenching sobs caught in my throat, long denied tears flowing down my cheeks. Hope and despair filled me where moments before had been only futility and rage.

God’s grace had found me tonight, but I didn't know which hurt worse, watching her go, or the kernel of hope she’d left in my heart.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Star Light Star Bright

Prompt: Not My Type | Word Count: 1200 Words Exactly | Genre: SciFi Romance
Due Date: 12/4/19
Warning: Some swear words

Star Light, Star Bright by Peggy Rockey

“Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” She holds her breath, unifying mind and heart as she fixes her eyes upon the twinkling star. She speaks the words into the fading light: “I wish to find true love at first sight.”

An image of the girl freezes on the screen. The star she has wished upon is actually a satellite. Her wish has been captured, recorded, and cataloged.

“Did you get that, Thomas? You’re up on rotation. Consider this your next assignment.”

But Thomas is already smitten with the impish, wistful girl displayed on his monitor, her expression shining with hope and loneliness. She looks to be in her early twenties, maybe two or three years younger than Thomas himself. He can almost feel the soft spring in her thick, luxurious curls; can feel himself drawn to her expressive eyes, hypnotized by the golden flecks within. By the freckles across her pert little nose, just begging to be peppered with soft kisses. He would trail them down to her full lips and…

“Thomas!” Commander Drake calls sharply to the young agent, bringing his thoughts back to his post and reluctantly away from his fantasy.

"Yes sir," Thomas replies, pushing his glasses more firmly into place, pulling his shoulders back and sitting up straight in a posture of strength and command. "I'm on it, sir."

~_~



The doors close with a whoosh, the train pulling away just as I arrive at the platform. I’m breathing heavily from my mad dash across the station to reach the last train of the night before it departed.

I can feel the wind of its passage as it gathers speed down the tracks and disappears into the tunnel, tail lights winking at me in mockery as it goes.

“Damn it.” I run my hand through my hair, pulling on it slightly in agitation, trying not to panic as I find myself alone at midnight, with no other way to get home.

I see with some apprehension that I am not alone on the platform after all. There’s a guy standing a few paces away, looking at me with an expression of expectation and familiarity. As if he expects me to recognize and greet him like a long lost lover.

My breath catches and my heart skips a beat as I realize, belatedly, that I do recognize him.

"Thomas?" I haven’t seen him since high school, four years ago.

"You remember me? I was hoping you would."

As if I would ever forget the boy I’d met when I was a shy, seven year old introvert who liked only to read and play with stuffed animals. He'd been ten, out walking that wretched mutt of his who chased my kitten up a tree. He’d sprained his wrist in attempted rescue, and I’d fallen instantly in love with his bashful, stuttering heroics. Even though he forever after remained oblivious to my charm, until eventually my childhood crush faded away, along with my baby fat and my tendency to blush.

"What are you doing here?" I smooth and tuck my wayward curls behind my ears, while my eyes lock on to his too-wide grin that looks ready to burst into full-on laughter.

"I'm here to grant your wish," he replies, with an air of mystery and importance.

My heart lurches, remembering the childish wish I’d made at twilight. "What wish is that?"

“True love,” he answers softly. Sincerely. His right hand unconsciously lifts to rest over his heart.

“What?!? With you?” I scoff, hoping to hide the fact that my heart has begun beating erratically at his declaration. My face warms and I can feel the flush creep over my cheeks. “You’re not even my type!”

“Oh, that’s right!” Says the boy who’d ignored me all through childhood. “I remember your high school preference for blond haired, broad shouldered jerks, er, jocks. How’d that work out for you?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“Not so well, I’m thinking,” he continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. “And why’re you wishing for love, anyway? Do you think you need someone to take care of you? The girl I remember was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.”

“What are you talking about? You don't know anything about me. You ignored me all through our school years, as if you didn’t even know I existed.”

“That’s because you made it perfectly clear I wasn’t your type. You didn’t seem interested in skinny, four-eyed geeks and I wasn’t about to find out otherwise. Jeez, Miranda, you could have asked for anything. Self-sufficiency, unlimited wealth. World peace for Christ sake! Why didn’t you wish for what you really need: a job and a place to live, now that your roommate is getting married and asked you to move out?”

“Oh my god!” I gasp, “How do you know these things? Have you been checking up on me?”

He pulls a smartphone from his pocket. “You wished upon my star. I made it my business to know.”

“What does that mean?” I’m confused, and somewhat nervous as he holds up the screen for me to see.

“Star light, star bright…” It’s my voice. My face I see displayed in a video on his phone, making that silly wish at twilight.

“Holy shit! How…” I choke back the words, incredulous and unbelieving.

“I told you,” Thomas says, his too-wide smile growing ever wider. “You wished upon my star.”

~_~

Commander Drake observes his newest agent settling into her workstation. Miranda is star-struck as all newbies are, overwhelmed with the technology and the resources available at her fingertips. She'll go through a six month training period, during which she’ll work alongside seasoned agents, like Thomas, learning the rules and the tricks to fulfill the wishes captured by the wish star.

“Welcome back, Thomas,” the Commander greets his young protégé warmly, “I trust your honeymoon was as spectacular as your wedding?”

“Yes sir!” Thomas replies, his face flushing bright red in memory of erotic and private moments. “Mauritius was wonderful, full of unexpected delights and small surprises. Miranda and I enjoyed our time immensely.”

“Good deal. I’m glad to hear it. Miranda seems to be settling into her new position. Are there any questions she has that I might answer for her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. She still doesn’t understand why some wishes are granted while others are ignored. I’ve shown her all the satellites and the orbit each one takes, how they’re programmed to pick up wishes made at the precise time when the satellite might be seen as the first “star” in the night sky. It’s such a short window of time”

Commander Drake nods, “You explained that the wish has to be spoken loud enough to be recorded, and clear enough to be cataloged?”

“I did. And that the wish has to be technically or physically possible. But, she still wants to know why it’s only those wishes at twilight that are granted?

“It’s just the way it is, Thomas. ‘Star Light, Star Bright; First Star I see tonight.’ I didn’t write the rules, I just follow them!”

Echoes of Memories

Prompt: All We Need | Word Count: 500 Words Exactly | Genre: Fiction
Warning: None
Due: November 6, 2019

Cold seeps under the space below the door, through the double-paned windows and into the house. It seeps into my bones. Settles in my heart and takes root.

The house is empty. No furniture graces the rooms. No artwork on the walls. No throw rugs on the hardwood floors or fire in the hearth. Nothing to call this house a home. All trace of our life together is gone. Packed up and taken away by the two grown daughters of my now deceased love.

God, how I loved Bobby. We were lovers for more than twenty years and though we never married, we lived together as man and wife for the last thirteen.

It was difficult in the beginning, when the girls were resentful teenagers, angry and rebellious and hurtful, as teenaged girls can be. But over the years they had grown up and matured. They had married and had children of their own. Children who called me Nana, even though I wasn’t able to have children of my own. I thought I had become an integral part of this family. Together, we had all we needed.

At least, that’s what I thought, up until I learned that he'd never bothered to add me to his will. When he died the house and all its belongings had gone to his daughters. He had left me nothing. And the girls, whom I thought had come to love me, had wasted no time in selling the house and everything inside.

They hadn't even given me an opportunity to buy it from them, nor any of our shared possessions. Instead, they’d encouraged me to go away to grieve. Take all the time you need, Maggie, they’d said, all solicitude and compassion. And while I was gone they’d come in and stolen away my life.

It’s sad, but fortunate that I always suspected this day would come. I kept the house I’d had when we first met, currently rented, but soon to be vacant and available to me again. Bobby may not have provided directly for me, but he did teach me how to invest wisely, and my savings have grown exponentially over the years. Last year I even bought an art studio near my old place, and moved my supplies and most of my favorite possessions there. I’ve even begun teaching and renting space to other artists, and I have a circle of friends that meet regularly.

Bobby's house now echoes with twenty years of memories, but I will take those memories with me. The life I had here is gone; the love I shared with this family now scattered in Bobby's ashes around the trees of his property. The only thing left for me here is the cold that has seeped into my bones and into my heart.

But as I step outside and close the door behind me, the day is warm and the sun is shining. I am three years shy of sixty, and there is a whole world awaiting me.

Two Wizards in a Bar

Prompt: The Signature | Word Count: 1000 Words Exactly | Genre: Comedic Fantasy
Warning: None
Due: October 9, 2019

Two Wizards in a Bar by Peggy Rockey

“Must we have this conversation again, Jarvin? Can we not just admit that we both miscalculated and stop trying to assign blame for our predicament?”

“Absolutely not! I’ll not let you off so easily. You will recall, Niall, it was not I who cast the containment spell, but...”

“Yes, Yes! I fully admit my mishap. But. If you hadn’t deflected my spell it would have contained our enemy, rather than ourselves. Why must we go over this every time we awaken? Could we not rather discourse on methods to win free of this ensnarement? Would that not be a more productive use of our time?”

“Very well. As long as you acknowledge it was your spell that trapped us here in the first place.”

“Argh! You are the most pig headed wizard I have ever had the misfortune of acquainting myself with. How I have endured the last millennia with you in such close quarters is quite beyond me.”

“There is rather a deplorable lack of distance separating us, I accede. Very well. What spells did you have in mind that we haven’t already tried that could free us from our entrapment? We’ve already tried spells of enlargement and spells of shrinkage; spells of disintegration and of redirection, all with no effect.”

“The sending spell did little to help either, sending us only to opposite sides of the tree. Banishment and teleportation spells had similar effect. It seems we are well and truly trapped.”

“We could try a plane shift, and attempt to transport ourselves elsewhere.”

“That works only with physical contact, with the linking of hands. Impossible in our current incorporeal state.”

“We could try a binding spell.”

“Do you not recall that butcher we attracted with our first binding?”

“He was not a butcher; he was a woodsman.”

“Woodsman, butcher. Whatever. He chopped our tree down.”

“Well, yes. But it should have succeeded in releasing us. How was I to know it would simply reduce the space in which we are trapped?”

“Quite right. And lying there on that forest floor for all those decades, I fully expected natural decay to have eroded away our prison.”

“It may well have done, had we not tried the binding spell again, and bound that carpenter to us.”

“The table he constructed is exquisite, though, wouldn’t you agree?”

“It is indeed, although I believe one would call this a bar, rather than a table. Perhaps he intended it to go to a public house.”

“It’s far too small for a pub. I can’t imagine more than three or four people leaning upon it. Shhh! Jarvin. What noise do I hear?”

A knock sounded from across the dimly lit room. Heavy footsteps passed nearby, the creaking of a door and the jangling of bells, followed by daintily clicking heals.

“Ah, Miss Dupree! To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

“I’ve come to ask about your matching bar and mirror. I’ve admired them through your window for quite some time. Are they made of the same wood? The color and sheen is exquisite, the burl quite unique.”

“Indeed. Can you imagine the agitation that must’ve gone on inside this tree to have produced such burl? It truly is amazing furniture. You’ve a fine eye, Miss Dupree."

“Please. Call me Carol Lynne. I’d like to buy these for my home. What’s the asking price?”

“Hmm, I don’t exactly recall. I have them on consignment, you see. If you’ll excuse me for one moment, I’ll just go and have a look.”

Booted footsteps receded across the room.

The woman approached the bar, laying a cool hand upon it’s surface.

Niall began the binding spell without hesitation. “Carolin Dupree, we call you by name. In the calling we bind ourselves to thee.”

Jarvin continued. “With this binding, we empower you to raise your hand in summons.”

Niall said, “Do it now, Carolin Dupree. Raise your hand and summon us to thee.”

Nothing happened. The woman neither twitched nor responded in any way.

“Drat! We must not have her true name, Jarvin. Did we not hear it correctly?”

“I’m sure she said Carolin.”

The other man returned, a book in one hand, pen in the other. The wizards listened with interest as the man and woman negotiated the price of the furniture; he reiterating its fine qualities, she pointing out non-existent flaws in the design.

Eventually they agreed on a price, to be collected upon delivery to her home. The man set his notebook upon the bar and scratched out a receipt, querying the woman for the address. He turned the paper towards the woman, handing her the pen.

“If you will just sign here…”

Both wizards held their breath, poised with anticipation as she signed her name in large, cursive letters.

Carol Lynne Dupree

With high hopes, and a patience born of long ages, the wizards watched the woman depart.

After a short interval involving a rather jarring transportation, the be-spelled furniture now stood within a spacious room in Carol Lynne’s home. The bar in one corner, free standing mirror in the opposite.

Jarvin began the binding as soon as the woman was alone in the room. “Carol Lynne Dupree, we call you by name. In this calling we bind ourselves to thee.”

She twitched visibly.

Niall said. “With this binding, we empower you to raise your hand in summons.”

Her hand rose involuntarily, green eyes widening, pupils constricting and dilating wildly.

“Do it now, Carol Lynne Dupree,” Jarvin completed the spell. “Summon us now that we may stand and gaze upon thee.”

A whirlwind swept the wizards up in a crazy, chaotic dance and they chortled in gleeful anticipation. When the spinning stopped, they were indeed free of the bar, standing and gazing upon the woman as the binding commanded. She frowned at her reflection in the mirror, seeing right through them as if they weren’t there at all.

“Jarvin, you idiot!” Niall despaired. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

The Hero

Prompt: For the Glory | Word Count: 1250 Words Exactly | Genre: Fiction
Warning: None
Due: September 11, 2019

The Hero by Peggy Rockey

Dugal lay propped on blue silken sheets, his pale face in stark contrast with dark, curly hair. There was something soft and kind about the man in repose that was rarely seen when awake. His lips were formed in a crooked smile, but Patrick found it difficult to define the expression on his face: part mystery, part expectation, part fear.

“What’s wrong with Daddy,” asked the little boy who came to stand beside Patrick. He kept pulling at the bow tie around his neck, obviously uncomfortable in the little black suit and shiny black shoes. “Why doesn’t he wake up?” Donal’s face was as pale as his father’s, his expression just as mixed.

Patrick cursed the boy’s grandparents under his breath. Four year old lads should not be subjected to open casket viewings. It messed with their minds, as he well knew. He took the boy’s hand in his own calloused one; squeezed it firmly, affectionately. “Daddy’s gone off to be with your mother, lad. He’ll not be waking again.”

He refused to tell the boy his dad was in heaven. Not much chance of that, Patrick thought; not with the lifestyle he'd led. It could just as easily been he in that casket. He'd been the one supposed to deliver the drugs to the gang leader, not Dugal; but his cousin had insisted, said it was better for Patrick to stay home with his newborn babe, help out his wife and all that.

Only two weeks before, Dugal had come to the hospital while Patrick’s son was being born, and Patrick had asked what it was like being a father.

“Ah, it’s fantastic,” his cousin had gushed. “The lad follows me around everywhere, listens to everything I say and looks at me as if I can do no wrong. Your lad will think you’re a hero!”

It made him angry, remembering. What kind of hero OD’d on drugs? Dugal had been no hero. Neither was Patrick. He was nothing but a criminal; had been for ten years or more. Dugal had been in it for the drugs, while Patrick had just wanted to make easy money. And he had, too. He’d made a ton of money. Told himself he did it for his family, but seeing his cousin laid out in the casket before him make Patrick realize that if he continued on this path he'd be dead himself, or in jail, before his own son was four years old.

Donal’s small hand fidgeted in Patrick’s, and he was struck with the notion that little Donnie didn't want money. He wanted the same things Patrick hadn’t had when he was a young lad growing up. He just wanted to go to the park with his dad, or the beach, or even to the grocery store. He needed love and security and the knowledge that his dad was going to be there for him. To know his dad was someone he could count on. Donal was never going to have that now.

It was a life changing moment for Patrick.

He remembered when his Uncle Joe had been diagnosed with Emphysema after a lifetime of smoking. He’d been like a father to Patrick when his own parents had died, killed while driving drunk from a party. Patrick had offered to quit smoking if Uncle Joe would too. The older man had tried and failed to quit, but Patrick never smoked again. The desire to smoke had simply shut off, like a faucet. Like cupid’s arrow to his heart, his love for his uncle became that much greater than his love for cigarettes. It had had such a positive impact on Uncle Joe that he too quit smoking and lived another ten years when he might’ve died in less than three had he continued without change.

Donnie had begun to cry. Patrick picked him up, holding him close to his chest, smoothing his dark hair. He carried him over to the boy’s grandparents, who sat with Patrick’s wife and son. Love for this family struck him hard, like that familiar arrow to his heart, and he knew his life had to change.

Donnie squirmed, wiping at the tears streaking his face. He asked to go to the bathroom, and while he waited for the boy, Patrick overheard another cousin talking to some friends about an Ironman competition he was going to compete at in Barcelona next month.

Ian was an intense, wiry man whom Patrick had always admired, though they hadn’t been close as kids and had little connection as adults. As he listened to the other man talk about the upcoming event, Patrick instinctively knew he needed to surround himself with people like Ian if he was going to change. People with real, meaningful goals who weren’t simply wasting their lives in pursuit of quick riches and instant highs, like he and Dugal had done for so long.

***

Patrick made a point of becoming friends with Ian over the next few months. He went to Barcelona to watch his cousin participate in the Ironman triathlon, thrilled by the excitement and adrenalin of the event. Seeing Ian cross that finish line was the most fantastic and inspirational thing he’d ever witnessed. He didn’t know how to swim, and he didn’t own a bike, but Patrick made the decision, right then and there, to sign up for the next Ironman competition. He knew his life needed to change and he had found the way to do it.

He told himself he was doing it for his family. But really, he did it for himself.

It wasn’t easy. His old “friends” made it difficult to leave his old life behind, offering him quick riches and odd jobs. He told refused them, over and over again, but they kept coming back and started threatening him and his family. He ended up moving out to the suburbs, changing his phone number and getting a job as a photojournalist for a local newspaper. It didn’t pay well, initially, but it gave him a sense of legitimacy.

Learning to swim was harder than he thought it would be. Often his wife, Hannah, would bring Donal and their son to the pool while he trained. Shamus loved to splash and blow bubbles and Donnie floated and played while Patrick swam. He hired a coach, and eventually became comfortable in the water. He pushed himself hard, learning to tread and to float on his back, to open his eyes under water and to swim with long, powerful strokes.

He used some of his illicitly gained savings to buy a bike, and found an Ironman training plan online. He balanced his time between family, work, and training, feeling more energized and encouraged than he ever had in his life. He became high on exercise, on the dopamine that surged through his body, fueled by hours of swimming, biking and running. Amped by the positive changes he was experiencing in his life.

His family came with him to Holland for the competition. Even little Donnie and his grandparents went along to see Patrick compete. It felt amazing, standing on that canal surrounded by so many people, all trying to prove something to themselves and to each other. Patrick inhaled the cool, crisp air; filled with a deep sense of achievement. The race hadn’t even started yet, but he felt like he had already won.

He had won his life back and in his own eyes he had become a hero.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Xcelite deluxe set no 127 by Peggy Rockey

Prompt: Workbench | Word Count: 1800 Words Exactly | Genre: Fiction
Warning: Sexual content
Due August 14


Nathan’s hands, gnarled with arthritis and old age, felt too large and clumsy for the task he’d set for himself. The beloved tool set is old, older than he is, handed down from his father and his grandfather before him. The rust and peeling paint are evidence of a life well lived, yet Nathan had plans to restore it to its original state. Nathan plans to pass it on to his two year old great grandson on the occasion of their next visit.

Handling the tool set had flooded Nathan with a sense of nostalgia. Fond childhood memories surfaced of playing with this particular tool set, the Xcelite Deluxe Nutdriver Set No. 127. As a little boy, he had played out here in the garage, happily matching the colored drivers to their color-coded slots in the metal case, while his dad tinkered with his hobbies. His father had called the drivers spin tights, had used them to fix old radios and televisions.

A strong memory came to him, of being lifted up to sit on the workbench, his short legs dangling in the air while his dad fiddled with the wire tape recorder. Dad and Grandpa Al had exchanged recorded messages throughout most of Nathan’s childhood, sharing little snippets of their lives they found amusing or interesting; preferring to communicate in this manner when a telephone call or a letter would have done the same.

Nathan had uncovered an old box of these recordings just a few days ago, cherished memories of voices long silenced, but not forgotten.

"Say hello to your Grandfather, Nathan," Daddy had held the large, rectangular microphone up to his face.

"Hello Gram-pa," he had replied in his uncertain, little boy voice.

"Tell your grandfather what a good boy you are, Nate; how big and fast you're growing."

"I'm a big boy, Gram-pa."

Nathan smiled at the memory; Dad had gone on chatting into the microphone for a while, his deep voice laughing at his own jokes; until his mother came in to make inconsequential small talk about soaking chicken in buttermilk while oil heated up on the stove.

Nathan feels a thickness in his throat, a longing so intense for his parents that he hadn’t felt in years. It had been such a great thing to listen to those old recordings, but it had been bittersweet as well, and left him in a bit of a funk.

He set the tool case back into the tray of vinegar, the sharp, acrid scent permeating the garage. His Dad had taught him this trick long ago, using white vinegar to remove rust from metal. The aroma tickled his nose and made his eyes water.

Of course it was the vinegar making his eyes tear up. Not the yearning for his long dead parents, nor the more recent memory of Sally, lying pale and shaken in the recovery room following surgery earlier that morning, of his wife’s brave, bandaged face on the drive home from the hospital. She’d said is wasn't painful, but she worried that the scar would mar her face.

“Scar, schmar,” Nate had assured her. “It’ll just add character to your good looks. You are just as beautiful as you were when I first fell in love with you, even now after all these years, with your gray hair and wrinkles.”

"And saggy boobs?"

“Those too," he had teased, reaching across the car to give her breast a gentle caress and a quick tweak of her nipple.

"Oh, you," she swatted at his hand, but her lips had lifted in a tentative smile, and he could tell her spirit had lifted as well.

He had put her to bed, kissed her forehead and stroked her thick hair, until she shooed him away so she could sleep off the last dregs of anesthesia. Nathan had come out to the garage to distract himself from his feelings of helplessness, of his inability to protect his wife and keep her safe.

He plucked the tool case out of the vinegar again and set it on the workbench. Picking up an old toothbrush, he began scrubbin the soft bristles against the largest rust spot. He was determined to remove the blemish from the tool, like the surgeon removing the cancer from his wife. The rust came off slowly, but it was a time consuming, painstaking process. Eventually, he had to stop, to rest his hands from the ache of hard use.

As he placed the tool case back in the vinegar, his eyes took in the heart shaped engraving he’d carved into the lower left corner of the workbench. The sight of it lightened his spirit momentarily. He'd been so young then, but he was just as besotted now as he’d been back then. N.A + S.F. The initials are as clear as they’d been when he’d first put them there. Had it really been sixty years?

He’d been in love with Sally Fisher even when she had been Josh O’Rielly’s girl, back when they’d all been in high school. Josh hadn’t treated Sally very well. More often than not, he would leave Sally with Nate while he went off drinking and hanging out with “the guys.” He’d done this so often that Nathan suspected Josh actually preferred men over women, and had not been brave enough to admit it. Josh’s neglect had had a terrible effect on Sally’s self- esteem, leaving her feeling unworthy and undesirable, when that was so far from the truth.

As a result, she took to flirting outrageously with Nathan in a failed effort to gain Josh’s attention, to make him jealous. And Nathan hadn’t minded that one bit. She was so pretty, with her big blue eyes, and lopsided grin; her hourglass figure, toned from jogging and playing basketball. It had made Nathan so angry to see her pining away for a man who didn’t want her. She’d been sexy as hell. Hell, she still is, Nathan thinks, even at seventy seven.


Sally and Josh eventually broke it off, opening the way for Nate to court her instead. They’d had a whirlwind romance; already in love with each other by the time they were free to do so. They’d married within the year.

Josh had even been the best man at their wedding. He never did come out of the closet. In all the years Nathan knew him, the only serious relationship Josh ever had was with his bottle. Sadly, he drank himself into an early grave at the age of fifty-six.

From the very start, Nate and Sally couldn’t keep their hands off each other; their physical attraction was mutual and satisfying. They made love often and even when they fought, there was always make up sex to make things right again. Time and again she would come find him, tinkering in the garage, and end up bent over the workbench, loving his hands on her hips while her soft moans escaped into the night.

After the twins were born, Nate rigged up a swing for the two girls beside the workbench, where Emma and Ellie would happily play while he tinkered and worked. As babies, they were oblivious to the times when Sally would sashay into the shop, all sexy in her mini skirt and tank top. She’d dance across the floor and sidle up against him, whisper something suggestive in his ear, and bend over in front of him, as if to pick a tool up off the floor, just far enough so he could see her lack of panties.

God, it made him hard just remembering. This, in and of itself, was a minor miracle at his age. At seventy eight, this no longer happened as regularly as it had in the past.

Nathan rubbed a wrinkled finger over the scarred workbench; the texture as rough and gnarled as his skin. The workbench has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. Like the Xcelite Deluxe Nut Driver Set No 127. It had been a wedding gift from his father. Along with the house and the shop and all its furnishings.

Dad had had no desire to live in the house after Nathan’s mother had passed away, so he’d gifted the home to his son and new wife. He bought a shiny new silver bullet trailer and set out on the road to find adventure in his old age.

The trailer was on the side of the house now, no longer shiny, but still in decent condition. His recently widowed daughter had asked if she could borrow it to pursue some new adventures of her own, and Nathan had agreed, hoping it would help move Ellie beyond grief.

That had been before Sally had been diagnosed with melanoma and their lives put on hold. Today’s surgery had been the second and, thankfully, the doctor seemed confident that he had removed all the cancer cells, though she would need to go in for follow up evaluations every six months. This second surgery had not been nearly as difficult as the first, when they had removed lymph nodes from the side of her neck, but Nathan expects she will be exhausted and depressed, as she had been before.

His chest tightens with anxiety. Irrational fears were now forcing their way past the nostalgia that had comforted him just moments before, taking hold of his thoughts. He doesn’t know what he would do without her. She is the love of his life, his best friend, his main squeeze.

A shadow appeared in the doorway, a form silhouetted in front of the brightness of the late afternoon sun. It took less than a moment to recognize her.

His heart quickens as she comes into the garage, her eyes locked on his, walking slowly towards him with a suggestion of seduction in her lopsided grin.

“What are you tinkering with, old man?” She asks, her voice low and husky.

She’s wrapped in a woolen robe, her bare feet making little sound as she approaches. “You better not be out here worrying about me,” she said, “because I am going to be just fine.”

His throat tightens and he swallows reflexively. She lifts up on her tippie toes, places her hands on either side of his face and tugs him gently towards her until his lips settle on hers. He worries about brushing against the bandage and hurting her.

The kiss is tentative at first; but intensifies as her arms come around his neck and her tongue dances with his. A gasp escapes him as she moves just so, with that practiced swivel of a hip, pushing up against him, just so.

She smiles that impish smile that he loves so well, opens her robe and lets it fall to the ground.