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.

Imagine That! Cyber Cafe

Imagine That! Cyber Cafe

Prompt: Men and Women | Word Count: 300 Words Exactly | Genre: Science Fiction
Warning: None
Due July 17


Megan strolls through the store, enjoying the sounds of muted conversations, the click-clicking of keyboards, and the hum of electricity that usually goes unnoticed. It’s the grand opening for her Imagine That! Cybercafe; and Megan is thrilled by its immediate, apparent success.

Men and women crowd the space, chatting in the lounge, or utilizing the twelve computer consoles Megan outfitted with the latest technology.

She peeks into one of the computer nooks, seeing an attractive woman perching on a stool, facing dual monitors. A thin electronic band is secured to her head, transmitting her thoughts instantaneously onto the monitors. Without the privacy screen on, Megan can see the woman’s words, formatted as a poem, flowing onto the left screen, while images appear simultaneously on the right. Megan is shocked and intrigued by the vision, of a woman swimming naked in a moat, under a stormy, starless night, while demons lurk in a field nearby.

Megan wonders if her imagination is playing tricks with her, it feels like something dark and evil has entered the cubicle, the temperature dropping several degrees.

Smelling cigarette smoke, she peers into the next nook, where a man sits with an old-fashioned keyboard in his lap, headband in place. She watches words disappear from the screen, replaced with others. The image, of two men conversing covertly in a smoky bar, remains unchanged. He must be thinking in words rather than pictures, which is common, especially when writing dialogue.

At a third computer, a man has just imagined a story of himself, drinking beer on a beach at the very hour the world is about to end. Suddenly, a surge of electricity runs through the building, the lights dimming momentarily before a blinding flash emits from his monitor. The computer has processed its interpretation; and underfoot a massive earthquake begins to rumble.

That's My Boy

That's my Boy by Peggy Rockey

Prompt: Lethal | Word Count: 1800 Words Exactly | Genre: Action? Suspense?
Warning: Foul language
Due June 19


The boy is beautiful. Tall for his age. Fearless in the way he charges into the skirmish, risking bruised ankles and shins while tangling for possession of the soccer ball. Confidence shines in the boy’s dark eyes and wide grin as he kicks the ball to a teammate downfield, charging after it with all the energy of an active twelve year old.

Of all the kids on the field, this one has captured his attention. The way he moves. The combination of dark hair, tanned skin, lithe athletic body. His breath comes more rapidly as he watches the boy. Saliva fills his mouth and he swallows reflexively. His body tightens deliciously, almost painfully; first time since being released from incarceration.

***

“Come on, Ian, get in there.”

“Way to play, Ian. Nice pass.”

“Block him, Mary, block him! You can do it.”

The energy on the field is contagious as onlookers call orders and encouragement to the players. Cheers of victory and groans of disappointment sound as the ball is kicked downfield, kicked again by a fellow teammate. It soars past the goalie; into the net for the score.

Three to one. Four minutes left to play.

***

Ian intercepts another pass from the opposing team, kicks the ball downfield again.

“That’s my boy!” Sara beams with pride. He’s been the star of the game. May not have scored any goals himself, but he’s been the one to set up the plays, passing the winning scores to his mates.

She scans the crowd surreptitiously to see if anyone else has noticed how well her boy is playing. “Darla, who’s that bald guy over there?” Sara nods towards a shabby looking man sitting off by himself in a lawn chair, sipping from a large cup. “He’s kinda creepy.”

“I dunno.” Darla says. “He drove up in that old van a little while ago. I thought maybe he was someone’s grandfather, but he’s just sitting there by himself. He hasn't spoken to anyone, as far as I've seen.”

The guy's dressed in a faded white tank top, sweat-stained and stretched taut across the flab of his chest and stomach; dirty sweat pants; flip flops. As a parole officer, she’s been trained to interact with hardened criminals, has learned to be observant and suspicious. Sara’s instincts move into high alert as she takes in his ruddy cheeks, the sheen on his forehead. That look of fierce longing should not be on the face of an old man watching young kids playing soccer on a spring morning.

“Get in there, Tony, get that ball away from him.”

“Kick it, Ian! Kick it!”

The shouting draws Sara’s attention back to the game, but not before committing the van’s license plate to memory.

She looks up just in time to see Ian leap, stopping the ball’s flight against his chest.

“That’s my boy!” She yells, again, hugging pride close to her heart, as she would have liked to hug her son, who’s recently become too old for hugs from his mom.

***

"His name's Ed Garcia. He's a damned pedophile.” Sara’s voice is low, clipped. She stabs her finger at the man's picture on the monitor, scowls at his beady eyes, balding forehead, scarred nose.

She and Matt are sitting at the desk in her home office. Ian and Jared have gone to bed. Matthew leans in, nuzzles Sara’s neck, tugging playfully on her ponytail.

“He definitely fits the profile of any one of a dozen guys I’ve arrested over the years.” Matt says, before reading the charges. “Indecent exposure. Lewd and lascivious acts with a child under fourteen years of age. Fuck. I don’t know why they don’t castrate these bastards before they let ‘em out of jail.”

“At least they have to register, so people know where they’re at.” Sara relaxes as Matt massages her shoulders. Suddenly, she stiffens again. “Look, he lives out by Will and Maggie's place."

Sara clicks on the address, zooms in on satellite view. "Yeah, see; here's where Will's brother lives, across the street. Damn! Andy and Gina are just two homes away from the guy. We should warn them there’s a frickin pedophile next door so they know to keep an eye on their grandkids when they come to visit."

***


Sara’s waiting at the bus stop Monday afternoon when the bus bringing Ian home from middle school arrives. Several kids get off the bus, but Ian isn’t among them.

"Mandy," she calls to one of the girls, "where's Ian?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Stefani, I saw him when class got out, but he wasn’t around when the busses arrived.”

Worried, Sara begins making phone calls. She calls her older son, Jared, and some of Ian’s friends, the ones that have phones, or the parents of those that don’t. No one has any knowledge of Ian’s whereabouts.

With increasing concern, she drives to the school. The last time anyone saw him he’d been heading for the bus. The school is too remote for Ian to have just walked off by himself, and Sara knows he wouldn’t have gone with anyone without first asking permission.

Frantic now, she calls Matt while driving home.

“Honey, I can’t talk right now. We're in the middle of a drug sting; my guys are about to take down the suspect.”

“Matt, Ian’s missing. He wasn’t on the bus, and no one knows where he may have gone.”

“Did you call Jared? He’s probably with his brother.”

“He’s not. Jared’s home from high school already, says he hasn’t seen Ian since morning."

“What about Jeffrey, or Daniel?”

“I’ve called them, too. If you’d let Ian have a phone, like I asked, he might have called me, or I could trace his location.”

“He doesn’t need a phone, Sara. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“But what if that pedophile got him,”

“Oh, come on! Why are you jumping to the worst conclusion? This is so unlike you.”

“I don’t know. I just have this feeling. Something’s not right.”

“Listen, I have to go. I’m sure Ian’ll call. Don’t do anything rash, Sara. Be patient.”

But patience is not in Sara's genetic makeup. Not when her son's gone missing.

Sara’s had rigorous self-defense and martial arts training, carries a concealed weapon. If this makes her a bit cocky and over confident, well, Matt’s probably the only one that knows this, and these are traits he loves about her.

Finally, she decides to call Andy. After explaining the situation to him, he reluctantly agrees to help her scope out Ed Garcia’s place, warns her about the guy’s dog.

The sun is just beginning to set as Sara pulls into Andy's driveway. She removes her Ruger subcompact .380 from the glove box; gets out of her car as Andy comes out to greet her. In his late-sixties, he’s tall and in fairly decent shape. She gives him a quick side-hug, raises a hand to Gina, standing in the doorway.

“Still no word from Ian?”

She shakes her head, doesn’t trust herself to speak past the lump that’s formed in her throat.

“Okay. Well. We can hike down to the creek bed over there.” He points to an overgrown trail that disappears down the steep hillside, where the tops of oak and pine trees are seen. "I hike down there often enough,” Andy says, “Garcia won’t think twice if he sees me. We can come up the backside of his property from there; but like I said, he’s got a dog.”

The trees cast eerie shadows as the sun descends below the horizon. They reach the little valley at the bottom of the property, continue up the steep trail, breathing heavily as they crest the hill where Garcia’s house comes into view.

The dog is an ancient German Shepherd Pitbull mix that may once have been quite vicious. It lets out a weak growl, gets to its feet and charges at them in a doddering, limping pace. Sara coolly shoots it with a fast acting tranquilizer and by the time it’s just a few feet away, it falls at their feet. If it whimpered, the sound is lost in the gusting wind that whips through the trees.

It’s almost dark. A single light shines from a window. They creep stealthily onto the porch, peer inside. What she sees causes the blood to pound in her ears. Adrenalin surges through her and she finds it difficult to breathe.

Ian’s head is covered in a dirty cloth. She can't see his face, but Sara would recognize her boy anywhere. His tall, lean frame is so dear to her. He’s obviously gagged; she can hear muffled curses, stifled screams. His hands have been duct taped together and he’s been pushed to the ground where the maggot is trying to tape his legs.

The boy’s arms and neck are bruised. He’s struggling ferociously, and from the blood seeping from the man’s nose and mouth, Ian hasn't made this easy on the bastard. Sara aches for her son, but she’s proud to see him fight.

Freeing her gun from its holster, she gives the nod to Andy. He crashes through the door while Sara sprints across the room, barreling into the pedophile. As they sprawl across the floor, Sara’s phone begins vibrating in her pocket. She supposes its Matt checking on her, but of course she can't take the time to answer. She just wants to kill this fucker for what he'd been about to do to her son.

Sara's thoughts have gone lethal and she has to restrain herself.

She raises her gun, tempted to shoot him straight though his rotten heart, cracks him over the head with a satisfying thud instead, watches him fall to the ground. Andy rushes over and between the two of them they restrain the asshole and tape him to a chair.

Sara realizes it's all been a bit too easy, but surprise had been on their side, the man too caught up in his debauchery to be aware of his surroundings. Perhaps he'd grown careless in his old age, thinking he was safe in the relative remoteness of his home.

Her phone rings again as she frees Ian from his bonds. She pulls the head covering off her son, hugs him close to her chest before the shock of recognition hits her. She holds him at arm’s length, gazing into the face of this frightened, shaking boy, pulls him back into her motherly embrace and lets the child sob into her shoulder.

"That's not my boy."

The phone rings again, and she pulls it from her pocket. Unknown caller. Not Matt then. She almost ignores the call but instinct tells her she should answer.

“Hello?”

“Mom? Dad said you’re worried about me. How come you’re not at home?"

Jillian

Jillian by Peggy Rockey

Prompt: Rome | Word Count: 1200 Words Exactly | Genre: Fiction
Due Date: May 22, 2019

Crisp new Euros were burning a hole in my pocket as I passed through Campo De Fiori. I’d just sold a painting and I so wanted to celebrate. The market was lively; throngs of locals and tourists wandered among the stalls, voices raised to be heard above street musicians and the blare of nearby traffic. Exhaust from a passing bus blended with the scents of the piazza, flowers, spices, perfume, and hair spray, of the occasional unwashed body. Normally I loved the chaotic activity of the market, but today it just served to remind me that I was alone.

I really wanted to stop at one of the outdoor cafes where people sipped their orange spritzes and ate bruschetta in the hot afternoon. But Giorgio’s unpleasant frown came to mind, as I recalled the landlord’s threat to evict me if I didn’t pay the lease today.

Thanks to the Galleria Varsi, I now had enough Euros to pay the rent, with a little left over for groceries. And maybe some oil paints, if I shopped carefully. I’d been elated when the gallery agreed to show three of my paintings, but after two months, I’d just about given up hope they would sell. Now I thanked my lucky stars one had; but damn, did the stars have to cut it so close?

Reluctantly, I left the piazza and caught a bus into Trastevera. I was making a mental grocery list as I got off at my stop and turned onto Via Angelo Tittoni, where I found a young girl sitting just outside the door to my apartment building. She was rocking back and forth, knees hugged to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Hey, what’s wrong? Are you ok?” She was wearing a school uniform, and couldn’t be more than thirteen or fourteen. She looked up at me, green eyes brimming with heartbreak and sorrow.

“Oh! I know you, don’t I?” I spoke in English, intuiting the girl to be a fellow American. “Well, of course I don’t know you, but you live in the building here with your Dad, right?”

“Uh huh,” the girl replied with a hiccup. She wiped at her tears and scrambled to her feet. “I’ve just had the crappiest day ever. I lost my best friend over a stupid fight, she won’t talk to me anymore and the kids at school are always mean to me. I don’t speak good Italian, and I don’t have any friends. My Dad is depressed all the time, and I just want to go back home.”

The words came out in a rush as fresh tears started spilling again. I felt empathy kicking into high gear, wanting to make this girl feel better, but didn’t know what to say. On impulse I asked, “Do you want to come in for a cup of tea?”

She hesitated for a moment, studying me carefully before she shrugged, running a hand through messy, curly blond hair. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Of course not. Come on. My name’s Sheri,” I held my hand out to the girl.

“I’m Jillian,” came the reply, along with a firm handshake that made me think we were going to be fast friends, even though I was twice her age.

She told me about her Mom dying of cancer last year, as we waited for the lift, and proceeded to the top floor, where we found Giorgio looming just outside my door.

“Miss Corrigan,” his deep voice always surprised me, with his short stature and all.

“It’s ok, Giorgio. I have the rent.” I pulled the wad of Euros from my pocket, counting out the amount of the lease.

“You’re fifteen days past due, Miss Corrigan, there’s a fifty Euro late fee as well.”

I added the additional cash to the stack, trying to hide my consternation. No chance for art supplies now, I thought, sending a silent plea up to my lucky stars for a quick sale of another painting.

“Next month I will not be so lenient,” Giorgio warned. “There are others who wish to lease your flat. Have your payment to me by the fifth, or you will be evicted.”

I pretended nonchalance as I assured the landlord I would pay the lease on time. I had no way to make that happen without selling another painting, unless I could find another job, now that the contract job that brought me to Rome ended last month. I turned away, unlocked the door to my flat and ushered Jillian inside.

“Wowwowww!” Jillian’s jaw dropped, her eyes wide as she scanned the flat.

I looked around, trying to see my apartment through Jillian’s eyes. It was colorful and messy. Clean laundry on the couch, waiting to be folded; breakfast dishes left on the coffee table. Mostly the place was cluttered with all the weird stuff I’d collected as subjects for my paintings, along with a smattering of art supplies, and two easels I’d strategically placed to catch light from the wide windows.

“This is the coolest apartment I’ve ever seen,” Jillian gushed. “This is like my dream house, all normal from the outside, but wonderful and crazy inside. I can’t believe you live here! Look at all these paintings. Did you do these?”

Jillian’s whole demeanor had been transformed from sadness to avid curiosity and interest.

“I did. Would you like to paint with me?”

“Oh! Could I?”

So we did. Jillian selected the biggest canvas she could find, and painted with lots of bright colors. She used like ten or twelve brushes and when we finished, about an hour later, her face had changed completely. She was beaming!

“You should give me lessons! I know my Dad would pay you for it. Please say you will?”

It would certainly help, I thought; knowing that Giorgio would not hesitate to evict me if I didn’t have the rent on time. Knowing I would probably have to leave Rome or beg my parents for money if I couldn’t find a way to make it on my own.

“Yeah, maybe. If your Dad approves, I’d be happy to. I liked having you around today.”

Jillian’s smile widened, her eyes bright with happiness. “Let’s go ask him now!”

I agreed, and as we traversed down the hallway to the lift, I couldn’t help but remember how I had found her, dejected and crying. It pleased me that I had been able to make her feel better, and at that same time, I realized that she had done the same for me. Here I’d been feeling alone and out sorts, but my art had make Jillian feel better about herself and lifted us both up out of a dark place. I thought how lucky I was to be able to live, and paint, here in Rome, and now, I had a friend to share that with.

“Dad, come meet my new friend,” Jillian called, enthusiastically, as we entered her flat. “I just know you guys are gonna love each other,” she proclaimed, prophetically, as her dad entered the room.

He was ruggedly handsome, disheveled and, I thought, utterly adorable.

Jillian grinned mischievously. “Maybe it’ll be love at first sight!”








Friday, May 10, 2019

Frontier's Edge

Prompt: Cut Throat | Word Count: 750 words Exactly | Genre: Historical Fiction 
Due 4/24

Frontier’s edge by Peggy Rockey
 
Mary Frary can see her breath, ghost-like exhalations that hover in the frosty air. It gives her something to focus on, something normal and sane to counter the unspeakable carnage that has come to her village. She pulls her elbows close to her chest, rubbing hands against goose-fleshed arms, generating brittle warmth against the biting, bone chilling wind.
 
She's dressed only in a long woolen gown, linen shift, and petticoats, sorely wishes for cape and hood. Mary is a woman to count her blessings, though, even in the direst of circumstances, and she thanks God her captors allowed her time to dress at all, before forcing her from her home into the middle of this freezing February dawn.
 
Inhuman cries of attacking Indians ululate across the town. Loud, rapid gun fire breaks out, along with incomprehensible commands shouted in French. A few of the homes at the north end of town have been set afire. The awful stench of burning flesh carries in the wind. Mary is too far away to hear screaming, and can only pray these neighbors were dead before flames consumed them.
 
The nightmare has come again. Indian’s are raiding Deerfield. The first time had been in 1675, back when she was thirty-three, seven months pregnant with three young children to care for, and an idealistic husband who had thought to settle out here on the edge of the Massachusetts frontier. They had evacuated Deerfield then, but had come back eight years later. Now she’s a sixty-two year old matron, and this is the fourth time she’s relived this nightmare.
 
She wants to be furious with her husband. To rant and rail at him for insisting on returning to this God forsaken place; where six year old Johnny was killed in the raid of ’75, their home and all their belongings burnt to the ground. Where son in law, Hezekiah, was struck down in the raid of ’90; their daughter, Hitte, in ’98.
 
But Mary finds it impossible to be angry at the man when she’s just seen his head split apart by a tomahawk. The same Indian ordered her to dress, allowed her to don shoes, while Mary tried to convince her granddaughter to cooperate as well.
 
Mercy would not be consoled into cooperation, though, and the Indian cut her throat in a single, savage motion. Scalped her in the next. Mercy’s long, thick braid dangles on a belt at his waist. Her blood is spattered on Mary’s gown and shoes.
 
Bile tingles the back of her throat, her chest is tight with the denied need to scream.
 
Mary is prodded mercilessly towards a large group of people, neighbors and townsfolk, all as stunned as she, and shocked into obedience. French soldiers in red and blue uniforms herd them towards the river.
 
The sun crests the horizon as they pass the cemetery. How the sun can shine when her world has plunged into such deep darkness, she can’t fathom. The glare is bright. Her pain brighter. She’s blinded by tears that fall in silent rivulets down her cheeks. Who will bury Samson? God, how will she live without him? Forty-four years they’ve been married. She loves him more than life itself. Even when he’d brought her out here to the frontier’s edge, where life is hard and loss is great, still they’d had each other and who needed more than that? He had lit up her world as the sun now lit up these snow-covered headstones.
 
Grief strikes her like a blow and she stumbles and falls. Mary almost welcomes the pain when she is grabbed from behind, pulled to her feet by her braid. She expects to be killed, like Mercy; instead she is pushed and prodded with the rest of the captives, guarded by numerous war-painted Indians and a full contingent of French soldiers.
 
A murmuring buzz teases Mary’s ears, sounds of crying, of whispered prayers and muted curses, of shuffling footsteps on frozen dirt and then on frozen ice as they cross the river. She pieces together the whispers enough to understand they have begun a long, forced march through the wilderness to Montreal, Canada.
 
She closes her eyes to the atrocities that continue around her, thinking instead of her two remaining children and her grandchildren, thankful they moved away from Deerfield in ’99, to be spared this violence. Mary Frary focuses on the ghost-like exhalations of her breath, suddenly bone weary and heartsick. She dearly prays she does not survive this trek.

Moondance

Moondance by Peggy Rockey
Challenge Prompt: Tag | Word Count: 2500 words exactly | Genre: YA Romance
 
Due Date: 3/27/2019
 
 
It was almost nine by the time John pulled into the parking lot at the Blodgett Canyon picnic area. The lot was packed; he circled around twice before a car pulled out and he was able to park.  
 
“Nice ride,” said a guy parked next to him as John got out of his new ‘78 Ford Bronco; a graduation gift from his Dad.
 
“Yeah, thanks! She rides like a charm.”
 
“I’m sure. Not like ol’ Betsy here,” the guy slapped the side of his beat up ‘65 GMC pickup, “but she gets me where I’m going.”
 
John noticed the sleeping bag in the bed of the truck. “And a place to sleep, I see.”
 
The guy took a large gulp of beer. “Oh yeah; have bed will travel. Chick’s dig that!”
 
“I’m John Nelson, by the way,” he extended his hand, not recognizing the guy from high-school.
 
“Brad Peterson,” said the other. “You’re new in town, aren’t you?”
 
“I guess you could say that. I moved here with my Dad right after Christmas. It’s a damn sight colder in Montana in winter than it is in California, that’s for sure!”
 
“California? Dude! Are you a surfer?”
 
John groaned and rolled his eyes. He wasn’t sure if it amused him or pissed him off when people made generalities like that; why did everyone assume that all Californians were surfers?
 
Music, laughter, and loud, drunken conversations could be heard coming through the trees.
 
“I thought this was supposed to be a small party, but from the full parking lot and the dull roar I’m hearing, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
 
“Yeah! I think half’a Hamilton showed up tonight. You know how it is, you tell five people an’ they tell five people, an’ the next thing you know…”
 
“Half of Hamilton shows up. I get it. Guess I’ll go check it out.”
 
 It was late June, and dusk was falling as John made his way through the trees to the picnic area. It wouldn’t be full dark until well after ten. 
 
A red pickup truck with overhead lights, and speakers blaring the latest rock music, formed the focal point of the party. People were shuffling around two kegs of beer; couples were dancing in the spotlight. Picnic tables were spread around the area and John guessed there might be close to a hundred people there.
 
He recognized a few guys from the basketball team, lighting a fire in one of the camp rings.  It was still fairly warm, but the temp would drop sharply in an hour or two. The scent of pine needles and pot smoke hung in the air, competing with the smell of spilt beer and teenaged hormones.
 
He wasn’t sure why he’d come. He rarely drank and he hadn’t made that many friends since moving here. In a town as small as Hamilton, though, it seemed everybody knew him. A line from the song New Kid in Town played in his head; the Eagles could have written the song specifically about him.  
 
… Everybody's talking 'bout the new kid in town.
 
Looking around, he picked out the Vail kids a short distance away. They’d come from California too, he’d heard; and before he arrived, they had been the last New Kids in Town. 
 
They were clustered around a fire with some friends, the two older brothers drinking beer and passing a joint between them. The younger brother was making eyes at a pretty girl nearby. The sister was standing apart, her body moving to the music. She had a far-away dreamy look on her face, as though she’d tuned out her surroundings and was simply grooving to the music.
 
He’d had his eye on this girl for a few months now, ever since she started keeping score at the basketball games. If he was honest with himself, she was the only reason he had come to the party tonight. And not because of the rumors he’d heard about her, that she was easy and would have sex with anyone who asked.
 
She wasn’t beautiful, but John thought her striking, with her hourglass figure, long blonde curls and tanned olive skin. She reminded him of Farrah Fawcett from Charlie’s Angels.
 
She was so different from the other girls he knew from school, most of whom were here, wearing cowboy boots with straight legged jeans and tucked-in denim or flannel shirts. Jeannie had on bell bottom corduroy hip-huggers and a green tee that hugged her chest like her pants hugged her hips. “Satisfaction Guaranteed!” is written in big purple letters across the front of her shirt, and from the way guys were watching her, they're all wondering if it’s true.  
 
A new song started playing and she swayed her body to the rhythm, as if she didn’t care what others thought of her, but cared only for the music and the way it made her feel.
 
God, she was sexy!
 
Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance  
With the stars up above in your eyes
 
He recognized Van Morrison’s Moondance, and for a moment he let himself imagine she was dancing with him.
 
…A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies 
 
He loved to dance, and started swaying in tune with the music, though perhaps not with the same uninhibited abandon that Jeannie displayed. 
 
And all the leaves on the trees are falling,
to the sound of the breezes that blow;
 
He noticed the attention she was attracting from the girls nearby, throwing catty looks and gossip her way.
 
And I'm trying to please to the calling;
Of your heart-strings that play soft and low
 
 He spotted two guys edging closer towards her.
 
And all the night's magic seems to whisper and hush;
And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush
 
She seemed oblivious to the attention as she swayed and danced.
 
Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love;
 Can I just make some more romance with you, my love
 
She looked up just then. Right at him. As if she’d known he was checking her out, and it seemed to John that she is dancing with him. Her blue-green eyes pierce him with their focused intensity, as though she can see right past his outer appearance and into his very soul. 
 
Well, I want to make love to you tonight;
I can't wait 'til the morning has come
And I know now the time is just right;
And straight into my arms you will run
 
Her eyes lock on his, winsome and challenging. He blushes as the lyrics register in his brain, and the blood seems to rush downwards in his body. He turns away, aroused and flustered, but not before he sees her impish smile and an unexpected hint of shy vulnerability chase across her face.
 
Maybe he’ll get lucky tonight after all, he thinks, as any typical eighteen year old might, having just been tagged by those incredible eyes. 
 
Loud voices erupt nearby, and a fist fight is playing out between the two guys he’d seen eyeing Jeannie just moments before. By the time he crossed the distance to them, her brothers have stepped in between the two aggressors, effectively ending any violence before it could get more serious.
 
“Go on,” the oldest brother was saying to the two guys, “you leave my sister alone now. We don’t want you here.”
 
One of the guys decided to take the brother’s advice and wandered off towards the parking lot. John felt kind of bad for Jeannie; the guy had just been fighting over her, but obviously didn’t feel the need to fight harder.
 
At that point, most of the crowd lost interest and went back to drinking and dancing.
 
“She asked me to come here tonight,” said the other guy, “we’ve got things to talk about.”
 
“Not anymore you don’t. There’s plenty of other girls around; go find things to talk about with one of them.”
 
“God, Tim, just stay out of this,” said Jeannie, pushing her way forward.  “I asked Owen to meet me here tonight. It’s not my fault Dane showed up too.”
 
“I don’t care,” Tim responded. “I don’t want him around. He’s trouble.”
 
“Fine,” said Owen, with an angry sneer, “She’s not worth my time, anyway.” He turned away, and John grimaced in empathy at the hurt look she tried, and failed, to hide. 
 
Tim grabbed her by the arm, “this is what you get for sleeping with all the guys in town.”
 
“I haven’t slept with anyone,” Jeannie retorted indignantly, pulling her arm free and blinking back a sheen of tears. Under her breath she said, “No one’s ever cared enough to spend the night, let alone sleep with me. And just so you know, I’ve only been with these two since we moved here. Despite what the rumors would have you believe. They’re not true.”
 
She stomped away, and John found himself revising his opinion of her. His thoughts shifted away from ideas of getting lucky in favor of maybe just getting to know her.
 
He used the opportunity to introduce himself to her brothers. They knew him from school, but had never hung out together. They welcomed him into their group, exchanging stories about where they used to live in California and how they’d ended up in Hamilton, Montana. John liked them immediately; he thought they’d be cool to hang out with, and maybe become friends.
 
Jeannie came back, eventually, and John could see she was still upset. She was also drinking too much beer, too fast. He moved away, not wanting her to think he only hung out with her brothers to finagle an introduction to her.
 
He was thinking about calling it a night sometime around eleven when he saw the Vail boys heading for the parking lot, leaving Jeannie behind. He couldn’t believe they would just leave her, six miles from town with no one to drive her home.
 
He watched her roaming around the picnic area, making a trip to the outhouse and across to the keg, refilling her beer. She seemed less confident now that she wasn’t surrounded by her brothers, even managed to become less conspicuous as she realized she was alone.
 
He followed her, unobtrusively, when she finally headed for the parking lot. He was not far behind as Jeannie passed by Brad Peterson, who was sitting on his tailgate, laying out his sleeping bag in the bed of his truck.
 
“Hey, baby, wanna ride?” Brad suggested lewdly. John felt a strong urge to slug the guy, but Jeannie impressed him with the way she ignored Brad and kept on walking as if she hadn’t heard him.
 
Brad didn’t seem to notice John as he passed by and got into his Bronco. He waited until she was about a half mile down Blodgett Camp Road before going after her.
 
He pulled up beside her with the window rolled down. “Can I give you a ride?” 
 
She checked him out for a long moment, seeming to consider her options, then gave a slight shrug of her shoulder in acceptance of his offer.
 
She got in the front seat and they drove in silence for a while, he watching the road, she watching him. He wondered what she saw, with his short cropped blond hair and buttoned up shirt, so different from Owen's rugged bad-boy look that he thought Jeannie probably favored.
 
As they rounded a bend, John saw headlights shining up from the side of the road at an unnatural angle. He slowed down to check it out; a Volkswagen bus was down in a gully, nestled amongst a grove of ponderosa pines.
 
“Holy shit,” Jeannie exclaimed, “that looks like my brothers.”
 
It was them, sure enough, but how they got there wasn’t clear. He worried they might have hurt themselves in the fall, and it took him by surprise when he found them laughing uproariously, as if it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to them. 
 
“Oh, God!” Jeannie muttered, hanging her head sheepishly, trying to hide her amusement at their predicament. “I’d say it’s a damn good thing I didn’t go with them, wouldn’t you?”
 
John found their laughter infectious, but he managed to stay composed as he found a flashlight and called down to see if they were alright. Apparently they had swerved to miss a mule deer and plunged off the road into the gully. Luckily no one had been hurt.
 
“I can winch you out if you think your bumper will hold.”
 
The bumper held, and in about thirty minutes the Volkswagen was back on the road. John convinced Jeannie to ride with him as he followed her brothers home. 
 
“That was quite an adventure,” John said, as they came into Hamilton city limits. “Do your brothers always get into such mischief?”
 
“Yeah, pretty much. Maybe you’d like to come hang out with us sometime and see for yourself?”
 
“I’d like that. And maybe you’d go out on a date with me sometime?”
 
She didn’t say anything right away, and John worried that he’d asked too soon. 
 
“Why would a nice boy like you want to go out with a girl like me? I’m sure you’ve heard of my reputation?”
 
“What do I care about that? Obviously your reputation is based on lies and rumors, started by people that either don’t know you or are jealous of you. I like you. I’d like to get to know you better. I think if you got to know me, you might come to like me too.”
 
“I think unless my brothers like you it won’t matter, anyway. It seems Tim has the final say about who I go out with. He’ll probably try to scare you off, thinking you’re just like all the other guys who only want to get into my bed.”
 
“He won’t be far wrong. But it’s not the only thing I want. I’ll promise you this: if you ever do take me to your bed, I’ll stay with you all night; I’ll hold you until you fall asleep, and I’ll be there in the morning when you wake.”
 
He said this as they pulled up in front of her house.
 
“Would you like to come in,” she asked softly.
 
“I would, but no. Thanks. I don’t want you to think I’m taking advantage of you. But, maybe you’d go out with me next Friday?”
 
“Why don’t you come over tomorrow, we’ll see how you get along with my brothers. If they like you, then we’ll see.”  She stretched across the seat and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thanks for all you did tonight, giving me a ride and helping out my brothers.”
 
As he drove away, John was remembering the way she had danced to that song, thinking it had been a marvelous night for a moondance. And he wondered how early it would be acceptable to come over in the morning.

Ina

Ina by Peggy Rockey

Challenge Prompt: New Me | Word Count: 1200 words exactly | Genre: Romance
 
Due Date: 2/27/2019
 
He sits in church and watches her, week after week, sitting stiff and silent next to her stern, stoic husband. He is captivated by her beauty, her grace; by the elegant way she dresses and composes herself. She is tall. Wispy thin. Strands of silver in her dark, shoulder length hair catch the light, accentuating pale skin and dark eyes. Spider-like lines at mouth and eyes tell him she once knew how to smile. Elliot thinks she looks frail, but suspects there is strength at her core.
 
There is a profound sadness about her, as though she clings to a distant grief that now defines who she is. There is sorrow from his own past as well. A daughter, just seven year old, with dark hair and eyes, so like her mother, whose death, fourteen years before had broken his heart and driven his wife away. 
 
He watches as she stands with the congregation during worship, swaying slightly to the music, eyes downcast. Ina never sings. She rarely speaks, though she has a beautiful, lyrical voice.  
 
He knows this, because he'd dared to greet her once, last year, when she and her husband, Duncan, began attending this church. She had graced him with a shy smile, said "good morning" in a soft lilting voice. Had turned large, expressive eyes upon him, and Elliot had drowned in their deep, dark depths; held spellbound, even now, by her charismatic, lonely gaze. 
 
Since that one time of greeting, Duncan took care to always delay their arrival to the start of worship, departing as soon as service ended. Elliot saw that Ina was never allowed to linger, nor mingle with the crowd. Neither did they attend other church or community events. As far as Elliot could tell, Ina had no friends, nor family nearby.  
 
He wished…
 
He didn't know what he wished.
 
*~*
 
Ina sits in church beside her husband, still and circumspect. She does not like to draw attention to herself, especially not from Duncan. Try as she might, though, she can’t help but watch this man who watches her; this handsome man who always sits where he can silently observe her. She has noticed that he always sits alone, yet not apart, and never aloof. He smiles often, chatting and laughing with those around him. 
 
Ina admires the way he sings during worship, loud and clear with his fine, fine voice. His worship seems sincere; face and hands upraised to the Lord. Ina thinks he fairly glows.  
 
She remembers a time when she used to worship like that, offering praises to the Lord with a pure heart, an open spirit. But that was long ago. A lifetime ago. Before the accident that killed her child, her heart, her first marriage. 
 
By the time her heart had healed and she might have dared to sing again, she had already married this stern, stoic man who disapproved of so many things. Most especially public displays of emotion.
  
They have been married ten years, and Duncan has made her life a living hell. When they’d first met, she’d been so cocooned in her own remorse over the loss of her child, she hadn’t discerned what kind of man he was. She’d been drawn by his quiet demeanor, by the very stoicism that now repelled her. 
 
He was so very different from the fun-loving, outgoing, passionate man she’d lost when she’d lost her child. Duncan’s apathy, his dispassion, had suited her at the time. Once his cruel nature had been revealed, it was too late. She’d accepted it as due punishment for her part in her child’s accident, though she knew, deep down, she was not to blame for that.
 
She can feel Elliot’s eyes upon her, but refuses to return his gaze. It wouldn’t be proper to show interest in this man who is not her husband.
 
*~*
 
Duncan fumes in silence. Do they think he is blind? Do they think he doesn’t see the way they flirt with their eyes? His wife should know better than to draw attention to herself. He has taught her this lesson before.
 
All through service he seethes in quiet rage. He will not have his wife flaunting herself before other men. Must she make him chastise her again? 
 
Bile rises in the back of his throat, nausea and heartburn plague him as he considers the most suitable punishment for her immoral behavior. He is impatient now to get her alone in the confines of their home.
 
*~*
 
Church ends, and they drive in silence. Duncan seems more sullen than ever. He’s driving faster than usual, his hands gripping and ungripping the steering wheel. He’s clenching and unclenching his jaw. A sure sign of agitation. 
 
Ina wonders what has set him off this time. Knows not to ask. She has grown used to the frequent silences he ekes out as punishment for whatever infraction he imagines she’s committed. She welcomes the quiet, though she knows from painful experience the violence that lurks just beneath the surface. Knows better than to breach his silence.
 
As they approach the driveway, she can see he is struggling to catch his breath; he's frightfully pale and has broken into a sweat, though it's quite cold. He parks, and they get out of the car. Now he’s clutching his arm and his face is drenched in sweat; bleached of color.
 
She comes around to his side, but he has worked himself into a rage and he backhands her with a painful slap.
 
He tries to speak, but his eyes have taken on a distant, unfocused glaze and suddenly he pitches forward, cracking his forehead on the concrete floor.
 
She tries, ineffectually, to rouse him, but he is unconscious; too heavy for her to lift.  
 
He is dead by the time the paramedics arrive. A sudden, massive heart attack, they said. Nothing she could have done.
 
*~*
 
The funeral is a quiet affair, just a few members from church. She pretends to mourn, but all she feels is relief. Her marriage to Duncan has been punishment enough for the death of her daughter. She thinks the time for punishment and mourning is past.
 
Finally, it’s time to start living again.
 
*~*
 
Six months have passed, and still he watches her. He’d been afraid she would stop coming. The black mourning clothes have been replaced with grays and browns and greens. The muted colors suit her. She’s even begun coming early to church, to mingle with him and others.
 
Today, when he follows the congregation into the hall, Elliot claims the seat beside her, in Duncan's empty chair.
 
Ina lifts her dark eyes to gaze up at him, graces him with a wondrous, tantalizing smile. The one that always took his breath away, before their daughter died and their marriage fell apart. 
 
When they stand for worship, Ina raises her voice in praise for the first time in fourteen years. Her voice is as beautiful as he remembers. The song catches in Elliot’s throat, and the tears begin to fall. He lifts his hands, giving thanks to the Lord for this second chance, this new beginning he thought would never come.
 
Finally, Elliot’s wish has come true.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Ghost In the cottage

The ghost in the cottage

Furious Fiction
First sentence must be 3 words exactly. Story must have a “first” and a candle. Must be less than 500 words. Due 72 hours from 8am Sydney AU Time on 2/1/19

Keira is afraid.

Something is pounding on the walls of the cottage outside, like the fist of an angry giant; insistent, demanding to be let in. There is a ghost outside as well, trying to squeeze in through the window. Candle light flickers on the window pane, and in it Keira can see her reflection, a four year old girl as pale as the ghost she imagines. Outside she can see trees, like monsters, looming and swaying in the wind. Knocking on the walls of the cottage. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Keira huddles in her overstuffed chair, clutches the thick sheepskin to her pounding chest as if it offers dear life. The ghost squeals like a banshee, wailing and screeching through the space between the wall and the window, and Keira feels like screaming in turn.

Mum had told her about banshees. Whispered yarns told by the dim light of a smoking peat fire; after supper was finished and the dishes put away. Da would scoff and tell Mum not to go on with such nonsense; “why frighten the wee lass with yer tales?”

The banshee screeches again, a deep keening sound that reverberates throughout the cottage. It reminds Keira of the awful wailing her Da had made, when the spirits had come for Mum at the first hint of spring. Had taken Mum and the babe to be with God in heaven above.

And now it seems they have come for Keira.

Her tummy clenches, roiling against the awful porridge Da had made her eat for supper. She is tired, but too frightened to sleep. She knows she is supposed to climb up to her bed in the loft, but she wants her Da. Wants him to come carry her in his strong, protective arms and reassure her that all will be well. Keira pulls the sheepskin up over her shoulders, shivering, and chewing on the frayed ends of her braid.

Suddenly, the candle is snuffed out and the cottage plunges into darkness. The door flies open with a gust of wind and rain. A dark billowy figure looms in the doorway, as if hovering in the space between the realm of the living and the dead. Keira screams in panic, certain that death has come to claim her. She finds herself frozen in terror as the apparition approaches; screams again as its icy fingers reach under the sheepskin and touches her skin. She feels herself raised in the air, and thinks her heart might burst from her chest, so fast does it beat.

“Shh, lass, shh,” a familiar voice cooes, and somehow she is in her Da’s arms, and he smells like horse and sweat and peat, earthy living smells that send the ghosts away, as her Da murmurs reassuring words in her ear and carries Keira up to her bed in the loft.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Tell No One

Challenge Prompt: No One Can Know | Word Count: 1500 words exactly | Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Due Date: 1/30/2019

Warning: Contains violence; may be disturbing to some readers

The door to the shed creaked in protest as Suzi Bishop slid it open just far enough to take a cautious step into the dark, windowless room. A mysterious call had led her to this place, an unknown number on her iPhone and a male voice she didn’t recognize. "You'll find Haven behind the old condemned house where you played as children. Tell no one. Go there alone." 
 
She noticed shovels and rakes and other gardening tools hanging on racks and propped along the nearest wall. A riding lawn mower divided the interior of the shed. Dried, molding grass mingled with other fetid odors, and Suzi gagged at the overpowering scent of shit and vomit and blood.
 
She picked up a hefty, half-length shovel and forced herself to step around the lawn mower. She tripped over a rusting gas can and sprawled to the ground, where she fell upon a cold, hard body. She stifled a scream.   
 
Haven was dressed only in a filthy camisole and torn nylon panties. Blood and urine and feces had run down and dried on her bare legs, and there was new skin forming over wounds on ankles and wrists. The skin was raw and pink and puckered. Her face was bruised and beaten; mostly unrecognizable. Only the blue opal pendant that hung around her neck clearly identified her to Suzi, who had given the present to her sister on her nineteenth birthday.  
 
The day before she’d gone missing. Five weeks ago.   
 
Reason deserted her, and she sank back onto her knees, gathered her battered sister into her arms. Haven wasn’t breathing. Suzi’s chest and throat constricted with grief and anger and unacknowledged fear. "Oh God. Oh Haven.” The words came out as a whisper, yet they screamed and echoed inside her head. Haven remained as still and ridged as a corpse. 
 
“Oh God!” She repeated, trembling uncontrollably, rocking and stroking Haven’s hair. “Who did this to you?" 
 
Whoever had done this, it hadn’t happened here. There was no sign of struggle, no accumulation of waste or excrement or other debris. The stench came solely from Haven’s body. The space around her was clean except for dirt and cobwebs and mouse droppings.
 
Suzi tried to make a mental list of anyone she knew who might be capable of committing such atrocity, but failed. Not even the sick bastards at the behavioral health facility where she had been confined last year could have carried out such brutality, of that she felt certain.

Who knew that she and Haven had played here as children? She thought of the many foster homes they had lived in during their youth, but holding her sister in her arms as she was, Suzi found it difficult to connect cohesive thoughts together.
 
She pulled her phone out of her back pocket.
 
There was a text on the screen: TELL NO ONE
 
Panic struck. What was she to do? She looked down upon Haven’s battered face, overcome with a sudden rush of rage and resolve that overrode her fear.
 
Screw that!
 
She couldn’t just leave her here. She had protected and cared for her younger sister all their life; she would not leave her now. She unlocked the phone with her fingerprint, was just about to press the phone icon when footsteps sounded outside.
 
The small hairs on the back of Suzi’s neck prickled. At the same moment Haven heaved a huge gasping breath. Haven’s eyes popped open, and Suzi sensed raw fear emanating from the abused girl.
 
“Josh.” The name wheezed out of torn lips. 
 
“Shh, Haven,” Suzi pulled her sister up, protectively, to sit against her chest. Haven’s eyes, full of pain and fright, widened in recognition at the sight of Suzi. Her body relaxed ever so slightly, but immediately stiffened when a large man appeared, silhouetted in the doorway.
 
“Well, well,” his voice was low and insolent, “we meet again. Sister.”
 
Sister? There was only one person who would call her sister.
 
“Joshua Shelby,” she pulled the name out of memory, twelve years distant. “You did this?"
 
Motionless and silhouetted as he was, it was impossible to see the details of his face.
 
“We used to play in the old house, here, before they condemned it; do you remember?” He spoke in a soft, conversational tone. “We’d play hide and seek, and I’d always seek out Haven. It wouldn’t have been much fun to hurt you, since you were already broken.” His voice had a sneer to it, condescending and, Suzi thought, irrational. “But Haven, she was a bright star and I couldn't stand to see her shine. God, I hated her. With her pretty smile and her sweet ways.  She didn't see me like you did, like Mother and Father did. No matter what I did to her, she always came back, full of faith and trust. Like a damned puppy. Stupid, stupid girl.”
 
Haven had become extremely still and heavy against her. Suzi risked a quick glance and saw that her eyes were open and staring; forever unseeing. A fierce ache gripped Suzi’s chest.
 
“Why?” The question escaped out of the emptiness that had begun to descend upon her, like a fog. She found it difficult to breathe, and her eyes stung with unshed tears.
 
“Can’t you guess? I was ten years old, and already I knew my father hated me. And then you came along, you and your sister, and you were the apples of his eye. No one can know what it was like, when you came into my family and stole everything that was mine. My toys. My friends. My parents. You could do no wrong; he gave you everything. Everything I ever wanted, and never got.”
 
“We were just kids in need of a family.”
 
 “So was I!” The declaration came loud and deranged. She could hear the deep breath he took, as though calming himself. He took a step into the shed.  “Father never looked at me with anything but loathing, he couldn't stand the sight of me. As if I reminded him of something distasteful or shameful that he was forced to tolerate. Mother was just as bad. She never trusted me to do what was right, always watching me, as if she just knew I would do something bad.
 
“So I gave them what they expected. And why not? They seemed almost relieved when I started acting out, when I did cruel and selfish things, for wasn't that what they expected of me? It's why they sent you away, did you never wonder?”
 
She remembered. “But that was twelve years ago! Surely you haven’t harbored this hatred for all these years? You could have gotten therapy or counseling or…”
 
“Shut up!”
 
He took another step into the shed. Now that he was no longer silhouetted, she could see him more clearly; blood stained shirt; pallid skin; a tic twitching at his left eye. Spittle on his lip after his last exclamation. Cut, swollen knuckles.
 
It was this last sight that galvanized her into action. God, she wanted to hurt him! With fists and knuckles, like he’d done to Haven. Pushing herself away from Haven’s body, she grasped the shovel, but it had caught under Haven’s legs and Suzi couldn’t free it. 
 
He had just passed the lawn mower.  He was right in front of her now; laughing at her. His derision pissed her off. She wondered if he had laughed when he beat Haven to death.
 
Sorrow and panic and rage fought for right of place in her emotions, as she struggled and failed again to pull the shovel free. “Damn it!” she screamed, manic energy infusing her muscles. In a single, hurried motion, she barreled into him, knocking him off balance. With focused intensity, she grabbed hold of the gas can. It was heavy and sloshed with fluid. With both hands, she smashed it into his knees.
 
He fell into the lawnmower, clutching at his legs. “Ah, you bitch,” he screamed.
 
She swung the can up and behind her, allowing it to gather momentum and strength, when she saw the gun flash in his hands. The bullet grazed her arm just as the gas can pounded into his face, connected with a satisfying thud.
 
He was sprawled on the ground now, beside her dead sister. His gun a short distance from where he had fallen. Suzi barely registered the blood that dripped from her arm. Adrenalin pumped through her body. She felt the fuel sloshing in the can and in another burst of rage she lifted the can, pointed the nozzle down, and splashed the fuel over his head and shoulders.
 
Considering her next action carefully, but quickly, Suzi set the gas can down, pulled her phone and cigarettes from her pocket. She said a silent, heartfelt goodbye to Haven and tossed a lit match onto her murderer.
 
“Burn in hell, you bastard!”
 
She slid the door closed as the fuel ignited, and dialed 911 just as the screaming began.
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

911! What's Your Emergency

911! What’s Your Emergency – by Peggy Rockey

Challenge Prompt: That Will Not Be Necessary | Word Count: 1200 words exactly | Genre: Fiction
DueDate: 12/5/18



“You won’t believe how crazy it is here, today” Steven mentioned to Paige when she arrived at the office. “It must be true what they say about full moons.”

It was only noon, but the office was already buzzing with dozens of 911 operators talking into headsets, studying computer consoles and clicking away at keyboards.

“Yeah,” Paige agreed, “it’s one of the busiest days for dispatchers. The fact that it’s also Friday the 13th ought to just about tip it over the crazy scale!”

“I suppose it could be worse, though; we could be working in an emergency room.”

“Uh, no way,” Paige emphatically denied. “I can take it when I get a call from someone that’s bleeding to death, but if I had to actually see that, I’m sure I would just faint!”

“I know, right?” Steven concurred. “Just brace yourself, though. It’s gonna be a crazy day!”

“That’s okay,” she grinned widely, holding up a bag of Milky Way Midnight Dark Mini’s, “I have come prepared!”

No sooner had she plugged her headset into her console and settled it on her ear, that her call light began flashing. She paused only long enough to take a quick, composing breath before she pushed the button and invited the craziness into her day.

"911. What's your emergency?" Paige asked, her voice calm and professional. She saw on her screen that the call was coming in from a landline. The map began rendering a street view of a single family dwelling in an affluent neighborhood.

"It's my Mommy," a frightened little voice quavered on the other end, and Paige steeled herself, having learned from experience that calls from children were often the most heart-wrenching.

“What’s wrong with your Mommy?”

“I can’t find her,” the child whimpered, “she’s not anywhere in the house.”

“Oh, I see." Paige put on her most calming voice for the child. “Can you tell me your name?”

“My name is Benjamin. Benjamin Roscoe.”

“Okay, Benjamin. Where did you last see your Mommy?”

“She was in the kitchen.” His voice was a bare whisper. “Mommy and Daddy were yelling at each other and Daddy had a knife.”

“Daddy had a knife?” Paige parroted, surprised by the admission. She opened a new screen on her computer where she transferred the address and typed a quick note to dispatch police to the house. This was standard procedure, and Paige knew it well. Every call from a child required that police be dispatched to the caller’s location, regardless of whether the situation warranted it or not.

“Uh-huh. He was yelling at Mommy and waving a knife at her and I got scared and started to cry, but Mommy told me to go to my room and take a nap.”

“Is your Daddy there, now, Benjamin?”

“Uh-huh. He’s outside in the backyard digging a big hole. But I can’t find my Mommy.” Loud gulping sobs caught between ragged breaths, and Paige had to remind herself to stay detached.

“Take a deep breath, Benjamin,” the dispatcher instructed the boy, “it’ll be alright.”

Paige thought it sounded like a horror story. A man with a knife, digging a hole, and a boy's mother gone missing. Like a story someone made up to frighten little children. Or a nightmare the boy had had. She hoped the situation wasn’t as dire as it sounded.

“Did you ask your Daddy where Mommy is?”

“Nah-uh! I’m not supposed to go outside by myself.”

“Can you go call your Daddy from the door, then? I’d like to speak with him, if I could.”

“No!” Benjamin whispered, fear audible in the young boy’s trembling voice. “He yells at me sometimes.”

Paige’s sympathy expanded, and she sought to keep the boy calm. “Okay, Benjamin." Paige knew she had to keep the boy on the phone until the police arrived, so she asked the next question in the script. "Do you know your address?

“Yes. My address is Two One Free Free Vine Hill Lane.” The address matched what was on her screen.

“Alright then, Benjamin, I’m sending someone to your house who can talk with your Daddy and find out where your Mommy is, okay?”

“Okay.”

“But I need you to stay on the phone with me until they get there. Can you do that for me?”

“Okay.”

“Good boy. Can you tell me how old you are?

“I’m free,” came the reply, and Paige imagined a tow headed boy with arm outstretched and three fingers splayed. She smiled at the image, but her smile quickly faded at the sudden, jarring sound of a door slamming in the background, followed by Benjamin’s sharp, in-drawn breath.

"What's going on in here?" A deep, stern voice questioned. "Benjamin, what’re you doing on the phone? Who’re you talking to?"

Loud, heavy footsteps approached, overriding the quiet whimpering that came from the frightened boy. “Give me that,” Paige heard the gruff, masculine voice; pictured the phone being snatched from the boy’s hand. “Who is this?”

“Sir, this is 911. Benjamin called because he couldn’t find his Mother, and he was frightened. Are you his Father?”

“911? Benjamin! What’s wrong with you?” The voice, once stern with anger now seemed laced with amusement. The baritone voice put Paige in mind of a tall, looming man, and she could well imagine how a small boy might be frightened of him. “You don’t call 911 just because Mommy’s not here. She went for a jog, you silly boy! Honestly! I’m so sorry to have bothered you, Ma’am.”

“It’s no bother. But I do have the police on their way, so if you could just stay on the phone until they arrive…”

“The police! But that won't be necessary. As I said, she’s gone for a jog and should return any moment. Stop your crying, Benjamin, it won’t help bring her home any sooner.”

Paige cringed at the heartless words, and understood the boy’s trepidation and fear. “Really, sir. The boy was frightened. He said you were yelling at his Mother earlier, waving a knife, and when he woke up from his nap she was gone and you were outside digging a hole.”

“Oh, for goodness sake! Yes, we were having a heated conversation, but it was hardly a fight, and I was slicing a tomato for our sandwiches.” He grunted, then, “Up you go, Benji.” The nickname sounded affectionate and Paige imagined the little boy now cuddled in his Daddy’s lap.

“And the hole?” Paige prompted, just as the knock came at the door, and she heard the police announce themselves.

“I was planting a cherry tree in the yard.”

“Mommy!” Paige heard the happy sigh in Benjamin’s voice and the scampering of small feet across hardwood floor.

“Well then,” she said to the man on the phone, “I won’t keep you any longer. Have a good day.”

She disengaged, conflicting emotions chasing through her mind. She took a moment to pop a Milky Way Midnight Dark Mini into her mouth, savoring its rich chocolate flavor and the magic that brought her back and anchored her to the present.

In the next moment her call light started flashing again, and she pushed the button.

“911, what’s your emergency?”