Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Be Careful What You Wish For

Prompt 6: It didn’t work | Word count: 1800 words exactly | Due Date 17 June 2020

Be Careful What You Wish For





"There's not enough salt in these god-damned potatoes," Frank roared, slamming his fork onto the plate and spilling peas into his lap. "God damn it!" His face contorted in an ugly scowl. He grabbed the Jack Daniels and took a long swig straight from the bottle.

The meatloaf became a dry mass in Susan's mouth.

"Your mother used to make delicious potatoes."

"I know it, but she's not here. I'm doing the..."

"No, she isn't, is she?"

Because you killed her.

He didn't say the words out loud, but she heard the accusation clearly in her stepfather's voice, in the rigid stance of his body language.

She felt her cheeks flush with shame, tears welling and throat constricting, choking off whatever words she might have said. What could she say? It was the truth.

"God damn it," he said again, softly this time, and with less force. “This isn’t working.” Pushing away from the table, he took the bottle of whiskey and left the kitchen.

Susan buried her face in her hands and let the sobs come. Her body may have healed from the accident, but her heart had not.

She hadn't wanted to drive. Had no need to learn. Why did she need a car, when they lived in the city, with public transportation to take her to any destination she desired?

Of course, that was before the coronavirus put a temporary halt to public transportation. Along with any desire she might have had to venture out into the city.  

It had been early January. The weather unseasonably warm. Her mother had insisted on taking her out for a driving lesson. Her dream for her daughter was for Susan to travel when she graduated from high school, to go west and explore the country. She’d need a car for that, and a driver’s license. She wanted Susan to get out of the city, to find and marry a cowboy, to live off the land and have babies, like she had.

Her mom had often reminisced of their life in Montana, where Susan had been born. Where they’d lived with Susan’s real dad, before he died in Afghanistan when she was eight.

Susan had fond memories of Montana; of wide open spaces, and snow topped mountains. Of sudden rain storms in the summer. She remembered pulling weeds in a garden, chasing chickens around the coop, gathering their eggs. Remembered skimming thick cream off the gallon of milk the neighbor left on their porch every Sunday.

She also remembered getting bucked off a horse, falling down the ravine, and almost drowning in the creek.  

Riding a horse had been almost as deadly as driving a car. 

And just like that she’s taken back in memory to the accident, to those moments of violence that ended with shattered glass and air bags deployed. To fractured ribs and punctured lung. Blood from a head wound dripping into her eyes; obscuring the sight of her mom, mangled and broken beyond recognition. 

Susan began hyperventilating. She had to fight to catch her breath, struggling to pull her thoughts back to the present.

The dinner she had taken such pleasure in preparing was now cold and unappealing. Her appetite had fled with her memories.

She could hear Frank out in the living room, flipping through TV stations, muttering to himself. 

Anger followed grief, and she let it come.

He was home all the time now, since his work shut down. He’d started drinking again, too. He didn’t hit her, or anything like that, but he got angry when he was drunk, yelling at her for no reason. Every other word out of his mouth was a swear word.

She tried so hard to please him, but he'd made it clear he didn't want her anymore. Without her mom, it seemed he wanted nothing to do with her. She felt betrayed by this man who had been like a father to her for the last six years. He'd rarely come to the hospital, and when he had, he’d hardly spent any time with her at all. He'd been so angry when she was released early, when the coronavirus started spreading through the city, and they needed beds for infected patients.

He’d even made suggestions about moving her out to Montana. But he couldn’t do that, could he? Just pack her off like an unwanted puppy?

Sometimes she wished he would catch the coronavirus himself, so he could see what it was like to be all alone in the hospital. As she sat there stewing, a niggle of an idea occurred to her. She had a follow up appointment with her doctor the next day; she'd need Frank to take her. Maybe he’d catch it then. That’d serve him right!


*-*

Frank woke on the couch. He was curled on his side, head and neck skewed at an odd, uncomfortable angle against an overstuffed cushion. His hands were clenched and cramping under his face. Drool crusted his cheek, and his eyes and throat were scratchy dry.

A glance at the clock showed it was three a.m. Bright moonlight streamed in through the slits of the blinds, highlighting the empty whiskey bottle on the floor beside him.

Why did he keep doing this, he berated himself. Drinking himself into a stupor, waking up hungover and often unable to remember the last events of the night. He told himself he wouldn’t drink the next day, but knew it to be an empty promise.

He’d started drinking after ten years of sobriety. When Carol died and his stepdaughter fought for her life in the hospital. When the pandemic struck and his work got shut down. His drinking got even worse after Susan came home early from the hospital, mostly healed, but still hurting. Still in need of the care he found so difficult to provide.

He blamed her for Carol’s death, though in his heart of hearts he knew it was not her fault. The guy who hit them had been speeding and ran a red light. He’d been slightly intoxicated, but not enough to be charged with a DUI. He’d been charged with manslaughter, though, and his insurance would pay dearly for the accident. But the bastard had walked away with minor injuries, while Carol was dead on impact, and Susan hospitalized for two and a half months.

Susan must have turned the TV off when she went to bed. He tried to remember if he’d spoken to her or not, but his last memory was of ranting about the damned potatoes.

God, he was such a jerk. He was so ashamed of himself. The poor girl didn’t deserve to be treated this way, but he didn’t know how to change. She looked so much like her mother, it hurt to look at her. Sometimes he wished she had died in the accident as well. He hated himself for thinking this, but the thought was there and wouldn’t go away.

Feeling guilty and ashamed of himself, he got up from the couch and made his way to his bedroom, knowing it would be a long time before he fell asleep.

*-*

“Will you come in with me?” Susan asked Frank from her seat in the pickup truck. She affixed her mask and stared out at the long line of people waiting to have their temperature checked before being allowed to enter the Medical Center.

Frank shook his head. “I’ll stay here. They won’t let me in with you anyway.  Go on now. You don’t want to be late.”

She didn’t want to go at all. She’d thought about this all night, about exposing Frank to the virus so he could get sick. In the end, she felt guilty and ashamed of herself for having such thoughts and lay awake for hours, unable to fall asleep.

It took longer to get through the line and into the doctor’s office then it took for the actual examination. The doctor listened to her lungs, prodded her ribs and declared her good to go.

*-*

Three days later, Susan woke with a fever. Her throat was sore and her chest felt heavy. She was achy all over.

That’s when she knew.

She had wanted Frank to get sick, to get back at him for how he’d been treating her. But life didn’t work that way, and she knew it. This was karma’s way of getting back at her for harboring such thoughts, for wishing evil on another person, even though she had repented of those thoughts.

She climbed out of bed and padded across to the bedroom door, peeking out into the living room. Frank was watching television, sipping coffee. The aroma of the freshly brewed pot made her nauseous and she made a dash for the bathroom.

“Oh, honey! You’re as pale as a ghost.” Frank said, when she emerged and headed for her bedroom. “Are you sick?” There was genuine concern in his voice.

“I think it’s the virus,” Susan whispered.

“Oh no! It can’t be. You go back to bed, right now.  I’ll call the doctor and we’ll figure out what to do.”

“Am I gonna die?”

She thought he would cry. Susan was struck at the incongruity of this strong man, whom she alternately loved and hated, trying to hide his fear while putting on a brave face.

“No! No! You are not going to die. Absolutely not. We’re gonna get you well and then we’re getting out of this city. You and me. We’re gonna move to Montana, just like your mother always wanted. We talked about this last week, remember?”

She’d thought he wanted to pack her off by herself. Had she misunderstood him?

“Go on, now. Back to bed. I’ll make you some chicken soup, then I’ll call the doctor.”

Later, she found him pouring all his whiskey down the kitchen sink. 

*-*

Susan was back in the hospital, intubated in the ICU, fighting for her life. Again.

He’d done everything the doctor had suggested, but nothing seemed to help. And now, when he finally realized how much he loved this girl, loved being a father to her, it seemed he was going to lose her after all. He remembered wishing she had died in the accident, and now it seemed his wish was about to come true.

He considered buying a bottle of whiskey, but quickly dispelled the notion as cowardly. She would want him to live, even if she did not.

When the phone rang, eight days later, he was afraid to answer it. He wasn’t ready for the news, inevitable as it was.

“Your daughter has recovered, Mr. Johnston,” said the disembodied voice. “She’ll be in isolation for fourteen days, then we’ll release her into your care.”

Frank fell to his knees and sobbed.







Hellhole


Write the crap out of it - Exercise 2 - write a 500 word, fully developed short story, with a theme, a beginning, middle, and end.
Prompt: Access Denied

Hellhole


There’s a low rumble nearby. It’s annoying, like a bee buzzing around my ear. It’s loud, and I need it to stop, but I can't figure out where it’s coming from. I follow the droning to the living room, but it ceases abruptly as I enter, and I find myself unable to breathe.
 
I gasp, struggling to get air into my lungs, panic rising as I try to make sense of the scene before me.
 
It’s as if an explosion went off in the room, leaving a gaping hole where the fireplace should be. Fetid smoke pours from it, and I gag at the putrid scent. A halo of orange green light reflects eerily off cobwebs and dust motes.
 
My pulse races out of control. The rumbling has started again, a low vibration that shakes my body and fills me with dread.
 
I don't want to look into this dank hellhole, but I am compelled. People shuffle slowly up a staircase, climbing towards me.
 
"No!" I scream as they draw close. "You don't belong here. Go back."
 
Ignoring me, they continue their awful climb into my house.
 
The first to emerge is a boy of about twelve. His eyes are wild with... what? Fear? Relief? Scabby pinpricks mark his thin arms, leaking from constant scratching. His pale face and once-white tee shirt a bloody mess.
 
Without acknowledging me, he turns back to the stairwell. With gentle patience, helps the others to step free.
 
In moments, the room is crowded with a dozen children, ranging from late teens to mere toddler. Their cries of hunger and need are fearful.
 
Again, I can't seem to fill my lungs with air. The children have gone still, as if waiting for me to breathe.
 
Where have they come from? Why are they here?
 
The littlest girl pleads for food, her large eyes filled with unimaginable sights and unshed tears. The others are becoming impatient and restless and I am afraid.
 
"We should pray," I decide, and cry out in a loud voice, "In the name of Jesus, I command all evil to depart from this house." There’s a collective sigh of relief, but the oldest boy lets out a horrified moan, throwing himself face first on the floor.
 
"Father God," I summon, rushing to his side as the others surround me. Rolling him over, I place my hand on his head, horrified as his face gyrates, now a young boy, now distorted monster. "Jesus," I call again, "fill this place with your Holy Spirit. Give these children rest and free their souls from evil."
 
A loud roar and a gust of wind shrieks through the room. I cover my ears and squeeze my eyes shut, until the room grows quiet except for the beating of my heart.
 
My body is bathed in sweat and I struggle to breathe. With a final gasp my eyes open, and I find myself alone in my bed, sheets tangled around my legs. My throat is sore from snoring.
 

A Little Bit More

Prompt: Listen - Day 65 word count: 100 words

A Little Bit More

I spent time with myself this morning
Just listening to my thoughts
Rather than shutting them away
With the noise of an audio book
Or the songs on the radio
Or the business of the day

And as I listened to myself
I discovered I have dreams
I hope someday to realize
I have stories in my imagination
And emotions buried deep in my heart

In the end I understood myself
A little bit better than before
And it occurs to me that maybe
just maybe I should listen to myself
a little bit more

by Peggy Rockey

Care to Dance?

Prompt 44: Fitted Wordcount: 120 words exactly Due: 6 May 2020 

Care to dance?


“What are you doing? Oh my goodness, Michael, look at you! Who told you you could come into my bedroom and rummage through my things?”
 
I attempted to keep a stern look upon my face, when laughter threatened to spill from my lips and eyes. He’s fitted in my sexiest black dress and high heels, preening before my closet mirror like a runway model. How he managed to apply the makeup so expertly, I haven’t a clue. The eyeliner and mascara accentuate his dark eyes, the deep magenta lipstick more kissable then it ever appeared on my own lips.
 
“I thought we might play a game tonight,” says my husband, pointing to the tuxedo he’s laid out on the bed.

Well, I Never...

Prompt 43: Tart Wordcount: 200 words exactly Due: 5 MAy 2020 

Well, I never...


"Did you hear what that tart said to me?"
 
"Who?"
 
"Roberta. Said she was going to steal my man away from me if I wasn't careful. As if she could!"
 
"Which man? Have I met him yet?
 
“Not yet. I’ve only been dating him for a few weeks.”
 
“But, why would Roberta say such a thing?"
 
"Apparently, she's been in love with him since they were in high school. Says I don't treat him right."
 
"Do you?"
 
"Well sure. I mean, I let him buy me things and I go out to fancy restaurants with him. I take him shopping and pick out clothes for him, I even tell him how to cut his hair.”
 
"Do you now?”
 
“I do. And I tell him which friends he can hang out with, and I even let him come over to my apartment once in a while so he can give me a massage and cook me dinner."
 
“And he’s happy with your relationship?”
 
“Well, of course he is! What a silly thing to say.”
 
“Not having met him, I’d say he’s either a wimpy ass, or Roberta’s right, and she probably will steal him away from you.”
 
“Why, you little tart…”

Time Warp

Prompt: Calibrate. Word Count: 150 words
Time Warp


“I’ve never seen anything like it, Captain."

"What is it, Lieutenant?"

"It's the time sensor, sir. When we bounced off that wrinkle in the wormhole back there, it started going crazy. The needle's oscillating back and forth like a pendulum. I can't calibrate it. It seems we're caught in a timewarp,"

"Of course we are Lieutenant, is that not the very nature of a wormhole?"

"Sure, but I can't tell if we're heading for the future or the past!"

"What difference does that make? Need I remind you, Lieutenant; this is an exploratory expedition? If you had wanted to stay in the present, you should have stayed home!"

"Sir, I advise caution; no one's ever gone through this particular wormhole. We've no idea what to expect."

"If we don't like what we see when we come out, we'll simply turn around. What part about exploratory expedition did you not understand?"

Bloody Murder

Prompt 40: Six to Nine Wordcount: 200 words exactly Due: 2 May

Bloody Murder


Blood curdling screams pierced the night. Amie jumped from the couch, her heart racing, as the wine sloshed from her cup.

The shrieks grew louder and more intense, echoing through the small apartment. Who knew a three year old boy and a four year old girl could raise their voices to such a pitch?

She rolled her eyes, set the cup down on the coffee table and crept down the hallway in the direction where bloody murder was apparently being committed. The kids caught sight her just as she peeked into the bedroom. The screaming stopped abruptly, to be replaced by a stereo of giggles.

“Can we have ice cream now?” asked Tracy, eyes wide with innocent expectation. 

“Yeah, ice cream,” chimed little Tommy, “I scream, you scream…”

“We all scream for ice cream,” Tracy finished the mantra and in unison they opened their mouths, and let out an ear piercing yell. 

Amie slammed the door on their giggling faces and headed back to her glass of wine. 

Fire and Water

Prompt 39: Purple Wordcount:120 words exactly Due: 1 May 2020

Fire and Water


Pyre called fire in his mind, forming it to appear as a flame held just slightly above his open palm. It flickered and danced, now yellow, now blue, now slightly purple, now red. Across the cave, Etha's heart-shaped face shone in the light, lips slightly parted, blue eyes wide with wonder.

Agua sat beside Etha, legs crossed, eyes unfocused. Pyre had practiced this skill with his brother many times; clearly Agua was not impressed.

A stillness seemed to settle around them, a heaviness like that which came before a storm.

"Don't you do it," Pyre growled; but Agua just laughed, making a flicking gesture in Pyre's direction, and a small cloud appeared above his hand. Droplets like rain dowsed  the flame.

Vive la Resistance

Short Story Prompt 5: Stale Word count: 1200 words exactly
Deadline: 20 May 2020

Vive la Resistance

 
 
https://www.terragalleria.com/images/france/fran42273.jpeg

 
Giselle glances furtively over her shoulder. She can’t see her assailant, but she knows he’s there. She feels it in her bones as surely as she feels the biting wind. The night is bitterly cold, as cruel as the hunger and the heartache that plagues most of Paris during this winter of 1943.  
 
Has she lost the trail?  The street is empty, save for a parked automobile. She dashes off the main street and into a narrow alleyway. A stray, scrawny cat is scavenging for non-existent scraps. It ignores her as Giselle hides in a dark, recessed doorway.
 
She loosens her scarf in order to listen more clearly, but her breath frosts before her, betraying her presence. Quickly, she secures the fabric in place just as approaching footsteps sound from nearby. Stuffing her left hand deep into the pocket of her threadbare coat, she folds it protectively around the coded message as if her life depends on it. 
 
“Dear Heavenly Father,” the prayer rises silently from her heart, “protect me and shelter me; hide me from enemy eyes.”
 
A silhouette at the mouth of the alley casts an eerie shadow on the wet, cobbled street. Giselle’s pulse races as she presses herself against the hard wall. She fights the urge to squeeze her eyes shut. Instead, she holds her breath, the accelerating beat of her heart pounding in her ears.
 
She takes false comfort in the ausweis she carries in her satchel, issued by the club where she works after curfew. Having the identification card will not be enough to avert suspicion of her behavior. Nor prevent her from being searched, interrogated, or worse, if she is apprehended.
 
 The cat, which had ignored Giselle, now arches its back and emits a low screech before fleeing in the opposite direction from this latest intruder.
 
A moment later the shadow withdraws, the footsteps recede as the man continues down the main street from which she’d come.
 
She waits a few moments longer, then continues on her way. The click of her heels seem to echo with each step she takes, so she slips her shoes off and  runs, barefoot and silent, ignoring the bone chilling cold of the frozen concrete on her feet. Giselle zigzags down streets and alleys in a path meant to confuse; cuts through another alley just ahead and finally into an unlit shopfront where Jean-Pierre meets her. He pulls her inside and closes the door behind them.
 
"You were followed?" Her brother asks, concern written on his gaunt, handsome face, as he leads her into the dim interior of the unused shop.

She nods, catching her breath after the long run. "I can't be sure, but I think I lost him. I didn’t see who it was."
 
They sit in a darkened corner. “I can only stay for a few moments. I brought food.”
 
She removes a worn satchel from under her coat, extracting stale croissants and a round of crusty cheese. Their stomachs rumble in unison at the sight of the feast, easing a moment of laughter as they tear eagerly into the meal.
 
After they’ve finished, she takes the paper from her pocket and hands it to him. The boy unfolds it and Giselle bends her head close to get a better look at what is written there.
 
“What is this?” he scoffs, “it’s a recipe for beef stroganoff!”
 
“It’s a coded message, Jean-Pierre. The man who gave it to me told me it's best not to know the code, so we can't give anything away if we’re captured and tortured. I don’t know what it means, only that it will help the resistance and we must deliver it.” They are both young and naïve, not fully comprehending the danger of their involvement.
 
“Beef stroganoff,” he mutters in disgust, tucking the message into his vest pocket. “Whoever we’re delivering this to must be rich, to be able to afford flank steak, and Marseille wine.”
 
"He’s a doctor," Giselle replies. "He lives at 11 Avenue Foch.”
 
“Avenue Foch? That’s where the Gestapo headquarters is,” Jean-Pierre says, eyes widening with nervous excitement.
 
“Yes. So you must be extremely careful. Wear your best clothes, and do not go too early. Don’t go out tonight, either.” She fixes a stern gaze on the young man. She knows he would rather have joined a resistance force to kills Nazi’s, rather than this subversive group that only passes on seemingly useless information.
 
“There’s a picture in his window, for you to know you’re at the right place. I’m told it’s an unusual drawing, of a baby in a womb.”
 
She smiles at his expression.  “Oh, don’t be embarrassed. It’s just a picture.”
 
When the boy stops fidgeting, she continues. “You are to knock at the door of the apartment where you see this picture and give the note to the boy who answers. His name is Phillip, he’s the doctor's son. He’ll know what to do with the message.”
 
She retrieves her satchel, covers her auburn hair with the scarf, and buttons her coat over her too-thin torso.  "I have to go."
 
Jean-Pierre hugs her fiercely, perhaps fearful of being alone again. He’s only fourteen, after all, and they only have each other. 
 
"Stay here until morning," Giselle warns him again, as he follows her to the door. "Don’t go out looking for your friends. And don't come to the club." She gives him that look again, and he nods in acknowledgement. Fear for each other keeps the smiles from their lips, but the look they share, and the love it embodies, eases their spirits somewhat. 
 
"You'll be safe here," she hugs her brother again, as though it might be their last. “I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”
 
The nightclub is quiet when she arrives; just a few patrons drinking quietly at the bar. She sits at the piano, striking a low, lonely key before signaling the owner for some water.
 
She’s barely removed her coat when the door opens, allowing a bone chilling breeze to sweep in, along with the enemy in Gestapo uniform. He sits at the table directly in front of her, smelling of stale cigarette smoke and cheap cologne. He fixes a steely gaze directly upon her, an ominous expression on his scarred, ugly face.
 
Forcing herself to breath slowly, she wills her heart to slow as well. She begins playing Chopin’s Etude Op.10 No3, filling the room with notes of nostalgia and wistfulness. Her stomach churns, thinking of Jean-Pierre, alone at the shop and unprotected. Had she been followed after all?
 
The door opens again and two more German officers enter the club, seating themselves with the Gestapo, drawing attention away from herself.
 
Her city has been occupied for years now, she reminds herself, as she concludes the Etude. She should be used to German officers at the club.
 
But she is not.
 
Their presence saddens and angers her, galvanizing her instead with an unfettered sense of foolish bravado. Giselle launches into the national anthem, La Marseillaise, though it’s been banned by the Vichy Government, and she could be punished for playing it.
 
Viva la Resistance, she thinks defiantly, determined to be brave and resistant to the end.

 

At the End of the Night

Prompt 4: write a villanelle


At the End of the Night

Where will you be at the end of the night
After you've finished the deeds of the day
Will you burn out or will you bring the light

As you shelter in place are you all right
Do you work all day or find time to play
Where will you be at the end of the night

When the crisis ends will you take flight
Or are you so cozy you'd rather just stay
Will you burn out or will you bring the light

Will the world transform into something bright
Or just return to it's familiar way
Where will you be at the end of the night

Did you get the chance to become a white knight
At home or at work or in some other way
Where will you be at the end of the night
Will you burn out or will you bring the light

by Peggy Rockey

The Gloaming

Prompt 4: Agenda | Word count: 750 words exactly | Deadline: 22 April 2020

The Gloaming

 
They call it the gloaming. This time of day when the sun sets low, glowing golden on the trees and mountains. When the sunlight reflects off glass windows, metal rooftops, and tall antenna. When the world is infused with a sense of magic and mischief.
 
Natalie pulls her shawl close around her shoulders, for despite the warm colors that surround her, the air is crisp and chill and likely to get cooler as day fades into night.
 
The house is old and rundown. Ever since Pops passed away last year, Granny gave up trying to keep the place nice. She’s too stubborn and proud to accept help from others and can’t do it herself.

Tall weeds grow among cheerful black-eyed susans along the pathway leading to the front porch. The wooden steps creak in protest under Natalie’s slight weight as she climbs to the landing.
 
The door is blue, but appears green in this time of gloaming. Bits of red show through where the paint has begun to peel. Natalie remembers herself as a young girl helping Pops select this particular shade of blue. It’s faded now, but still matches Granny’s eyes.
 
She lifts the lion head knocker and lets it fall once, twice, a third time. She loves the satisfying gong it makes, resonate and reverberating.
 
She waits a moment, expecting to hear footsteps approaching, or the familiar call of "come in," or "coming,"
 
There’s no response.
 
She tries the door knob, but it doesn’t budge. Granny may be crotchety and taciturn, but she doesn’t normally keep the door locked. Especially not when she’s home and expecting her favorite grandchild to visit.
 
The garage door is closed, but Granny’s ancient Dodge Dart is parked in the driveway.
 
Natalie peers in through the stained glass window at the side of the door. She can just make out Granny's rocking chair, empty save for a notepad and paper left in the cushioned seat. At this time of day, Granny would normally be rocking in her chair, making up an agenda for the women's auxiliary club meeting she attends on Wednesday’s. Having an agenda makes her feel as if she’s in control, and heaven knows Granny needs to be in control.
 
Natalie knocks again, the knocker heavy and solid in her palm. She lets it strike against the hard wood, echoing back at her, like a summoning. A dove coo-coos nearby, but otherwise, there’s no answer.
 
She steps past the old covered swing and peers into another window. From here she can see into the kitchen and the dining nook. Both are empty.
 
Where is she? Granny knows Natalie is coming. The younger woman made sure to call her last night to remind her of their visit. Granny always looks forward to their visits. Natalie is sure she wouldn't have forgotten.
 
Horrible visions of the old woman lying hurt or injured on the bedroom floor assault Natalie's imagination.
 
Hurriedly, she moves further down the porch, peering into the bedroom window. The room is dark, and Natalie can see it too is empty. The bed neatly made.
 
The bedroom door is open, and beyond that Natalie can see down the hallway. Light spills from the den, but from this vantage point, she can't see into the room. Sudden movement draws her attention, an eerie shadow undulating oddly.
 
She quickly moves off the porch and makes a path through the long grass to the rear of the house.
 
She can hear music playing as she approaches the den. What on earth? A sexy, soulful tune that Natalie vaguely recalls from childhood memories of Granny and Pops dancing to “their song.”
 
She wipes at the smudged glass, pressing her nose up close to better see through the grime. At first, she isn't certain what she's seeing.  Natalie finds herself transfixed at the magical sight of her eighty-three year old irascible grandmother. Dancing. Not hurt or injured, as she had imagined. But dancing, as if no one else is watching.
      
Granny glides and twirls gracefully, belying her age; hips and arms swaying in time with the music. Lit by the warm colors of the gloaming, Granny’s shadow is cast on the wall behind her.
 
In the background, the music croons. “Come with me to the sea of love… Do you remember when we met…”
 
As Natalie watches, a separate, distinct shadow appears on the wall beside Granny, though she’s clearly alone in the room. The two shadows, like ethereal wraiths come together in a lovers embrace.

The Ninth Letter

Prompt: The Ninth Letter; word count: 250 words exactly; Due 3/28/2020

The Ninth Letter


She fidgets with the frayed edges of the ribbon binding the bundle of letters held in her lap. His strong, masculine handwriting on the top envelope as familiar as the words written inside. Memorised and tucked away in her heart. 

“My dearest Isolde, I long for the day we can be together,” 
  
For eight years, on the day of her birthday, she would wake to find the letter slipped under her cottage door. Each year the message is the same, “it will be soon…  her health is failing…. We can be together, just you and I… Be patient… just a while longer.”

The ninth letter never came. Her birthday come and gone three days hence.  

Wagon wheels and footsteps approach outside her door. Her pulse quickens, then falters, as she recognizes Sebastian’s carriage. The wagon carries a shrouded coffin. Black clad mourners move slowly towards the cemetery, where bells have begun to toll.

Has his wife died? Is this why the ninth letter never came?

Nine years she has waited, while youth and beauty slip foolishly by. His infrequent visits had become the only real pleasure she had left in life, since he’d moved her to the cottage, when Uncle Shamus died in the civil war, leaving her with no family, no money, shunned by the townsfolk, and nowhere else to go.

Would he honour his promise and make her his wife?

The carriage draws close. Curtains part and a familiar face stares out at her, malevolent in haughty victory.






Gypted in Egypt

prompt: Translation | Word Count: 2500 Words exactly | Genre: Travel adventure, Memoir
Due Mar 25, 2020
Warning: None

Gypped in Egypt


25/Feb/2006 Saturday 9:55pm - Cairo Day 1  

I’ve gone into sensory overload and need to write my thoughts in order to make sense of it all. But how do I translate into words the events and impressions of the last two days? There’s so much to absorb and assimilate – the sounds, the smells, the sights – it’s all a bit overwhelming. And this is just day one!

Cairo is exactly what I imagined it would be, which is to say beyond anything I could have imagined. Stranger than Thailand even, which, until now, has been the most exotic place I’ve been outside of the US, besides the places I’ve visited in Europe, Australia, Canada, and Mexico.

I won’t go into details of our travels yesterday, of the flight from SF to Paris full of screaming babies and grumpy travellers. Or the delayed flight out of Paris due to an angry youth being deported back to Egypt where he clearly did not want to go. We had to listen to his tirade for 30 minutes until a contingent of security and medical personnel sedated him and we were finally able to take off for Cairo.

I suppose I should explain why I’m here, besides it being a fantastic destination.

My eldest sister married an Egyptian man she met on the internet, converted to Muslim and changed her name to Aisha. My Dad and Stepmom thought they should come and check out her new home.

To be fair Aisha is fifty, married Mohamed a few years back, before the events of 9/11, and were living in South Carolina until now. Already a green card holder before they met, after receiving his US citizenship, Mohamed wanted to build Aisha a nice home in Egypt.  

My two other sisters and I decided to tag along for the trip. The last time we were all together was in 2000. Terye and her eleven-year old daughter, Gabrielle, came with me from California. My youngest sister, Mary, who lives in Australia, flew in last week. Dad and Ginny arrived the day before. (I also have four brothers, but only the sisters were available for this trip).

So; on with the story.

Mohamed met us at the airport and ushered us to a waiting taxi. The ride to the hotel was an eye opening introduction to the free-for-all that is the rule of the road here in Cairo. They drive without headlights at night, flashing them only to gain attention, honking their horns as if to say “here I am, I'm about to speed past you.”

The smog and pollution are terrible, the air thick and yellow with sand. The taxi driver said there’s a sandstorm in the desert nearby.

We arrived at the hotel Marriott in Zamelek, on the Nile. After the taxi was searched for bombs, we were allowed to enter. Once inside, we were greeted to a round of enthusiastic hugs by Aisha, Mary, Dad, and Ginny; and Mohamed again, of course.

It’s 11:00pm and I should stop now if I plan to sleep at all. I’m still reeling with sensory overload, and I’m not sure how I’m ever going to describe this day in sufficient detail to capture what it’s like to be a blond female in Egypt.

Driving out to Mit Damsis to see Aisha and Mohamed’s country home, then down to El Mahala to see their city apartment, and finally back to the hotel in Cairo might describe what we did today, but doesn’t capture the essence of the day at all.

Of the micro-bus that Mohamed arranged for us to travel in, or the donkey-carts piled precariously high with laden goods, traveling alongside the cars and the Lorries in the wild, congested, unpredictable traffic. Of the armed, uniformed guards stationed at the crossroads as we traveled to the edge of the city and beyond.  

We never did get to meet Mr. Toad, but we certainly took a wild ride!

Trash and dirt and broken bricks are scattered everywhere. And sand. Did I mention the sand? I was struck by the futility of the people we passed, endlessly sweeping dirt floors.

Once out of the city we drove down back country roads along waterways where women gathered to wash clothes and dishes. The water was brown and murky with garbage and God knows what kind of bacteria lurking unseen.

We were constantly drawing attention from the cars alongside us, or in the villages and small towns we drove through. I suppose because we’re blond, and we had cameras in our hands. They wave and try to get our attention much like you would call to an animal at a zoo. Only we were the animals and they wanted us to take their picture.

We spent most of the day driving in the micro-bus. Mary and I in the back seat, sliding our windows open every time we’d slow enough to get a stable picture. Donkeys and carts and oddly dressed people, camels and water buffalo and broken down buildings. And filth everywhere. Occasionally a glimpse of color would brighten the scenery, something beautiful amongst the decay – a flower amidst the rubble.


26/Feb/06 Sunday 8:22am – Cairo Day 2

We’re on the train to Alexandria now. I look outside the window and see neat rows of green fields; here a herd of sheep and a shepherd, here a backdrop of brick and rubble. Here’s more green again, cauliflower and clover and…

Whoosh! A train going in the opposite direction.

Terye says at least on the train we don’t have to worry about traffic, and isn’t that the truth!

We’ve arrived at the Banha Station, where we change trains. It’s misting outside.

None of the signs are in English and even Mohamed, who reads and writes native Arabic, is unable to translate the signs and has to ask directions to guide us to the proper track.

On the train again. Everything is quite colorful, painted brick buildings, pink, blue, yellow, and tan. Here’s a river; banana trees; a grass, bamboo hut; a mosque. More rubble where a building once stood. There’s a blue van driving between red and pink buildings, where a man in traditional Egyptian garb leads a pair of water buffalo.

I’m going to have to put this journal away for later.

But remind me to write about Aisha’s country home in Mit Damsis, with the rooftop garden and the empty three floor building where all their chickens were culled because of the H1N1 bird flu. Of the women dressed in long black robes, strolling by with large bags of vegetables carried on their heads.

Of the pottery workshop we visited, and the town we stopped in where Mohamed insisted we try some sugar cane juice. Of the butcher shops with the camels tied up outside, ready, or already slaughtered and hanging to drain.

Of shopping in the market at El Mahala amidst a large population of boys and men, each trying to catch our attention while we pointedly ignored them. And the women, also inordinately interested in us, in whom I enjoyed connecting with, though we had no common language.

And remind me to write about tripping down Aisha’s apartment steps and almost breaking my ankle; praying for, and receiving Christ’s healing here in the midst of Mohamed’s Islam.


27/Feb/06 Monday 12:01am  - Cairo Day 3

We’re back in our room at the hotel, unwinding after our day-trip to Alexandria. It’s a beautiful city, and I’m glad we visited, but it was a little disappointing. Mainly because we hadn't made any plans for what to do once we got there. Most everything shuts down on Sundays all over Egypt, and it was better than sitting in our hotel in Cairo with nothing to do. But, we arrived in Alexandria with no transportation and no real destination.

Fortunately the Roman Amphitheater was nearby and open, as was the Alexandrian library. Lunch doesn’t bear writing about, except to say the café owners forgot to bring Dad and Mary’s meal, which set Mohamed off, clearly offended on behalf of his family. It put a bit of a damper on an already damp day.

I loved the library (booklover that I am), and the beautiful ocean road where we strolled next. In the late afternoon, we found a place that actually served beer. Yay beer!!!  We found a great restaurant for dinner, then headed back to the train station. 

The trip back to Cairo was quiet and uneventful. Aisha, Terye, Mary, and I reminisced about old times and spoke of our dreams for the future, and shared some rare family bonding. Taxis were on hand when we arrived at the station, and now we’re in our rooms, ready for bed.

28/Feb/06 Tuesday 12:01am - Cairo Day 4

Another day has passed and still I’m not able to capture it because it’s so late and too much has happened and where do I begin?

I’d like to write about the two plush Mercedes Benz that Mary arranged for us to travel in, so different from the microbus of the other day. About our visit to the camel market and the ride through the beautiful upper classes of Egypt, and the Papyrus Museum, and the Pyramids and Sphinx, and the silly Pharaonic Museum that Aisha insisted we go, and the dinner cruise on the Nile with the belly dancers and the whirling dervish.

I would tell you that the camel market was bizarre and fantastic, the museums a rip-off, and we got gypped at the Pyramids. We only got to spend an hour there. It takes an hour just to get around one of them, for goodness sake, and there are three pyramids! And a Sphinx! I mean, who goes to Egypt and only spends an hour at Giza?

But then I wouldn’t have time to write about the alarming call Mary answered in the room she and I share.  

The call came after we returned from our outing to Giza, where we were resting before the dinner cruise. Some guy, claiming to be from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, having just arrived in Cairo. Said he was given our room number and told to offer us $3000 for our services! Mary insisted he had the wrong room, but he insisted he had the money and was waiting in the lobby downstairs.

Now, this call in and of itself wouldn’t have been so alarming, until you also consider the invitation that’d been slipped under our door the night we returned from our trip to El Mahalla. It’d been addressed to Mrs. Vail (our maiden name), and cordially invited to attend the General Manager’s cocktail party on Tuesday evening.

Mary tells me about another Saudi fellow she keeps running into, who spoke with her the night she arrived. And how, shortly after that encounter, she was moved to a different room from the one adjoin to Dad’s that she’d originally been given. Instead she was moved to another wing altogether, far away from the rest of the family. She didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now it seems rather suspicious.

Aisha and Mohamed came to collect us when it was time for dinner. We told them about the call, and the invitation, and together we decided not to tell the others about it. Dad’s already stressed out enough with this trip, what with the language barrier and the lack of Irish pubs!  

After the dinner cruise the four of us went up to Ace and Mo’s room and there called the American Embassy. Their only advice was to move to a different hotel, but that’s not really an option; neither is moving to another room. So we’ll just ride it out and see what happens.  

Anyway, Mary’s wanting to turn out the lights now, so I’ll have to tell the story later.

1/Mar/06 Wednesday 9:00am - Amsterdam Airport

I may be too tired to finish writing about my trip right now, but this may be the best time to do it, since we’re sitting in the Amsterdam Airport with a three hour layover on our way home.

Mary and I learned that the hotel really did sponsor a cocktail party on Tuesday night. Likely there are people working at the hotel who give out the names of young(ish) unattached women to be targeted for nefarious purposes.

We speculated on whether or not the party was legitimate or if, more likely, our first drink would have been spiked and our person’s kidnapped and spirited off to Saudi Arabia, never to be seen again.

After breakfast, we headed to the Egyptian Museum. It was a whirlwind tour that was both frustrating and exhilarating – frustrating because we only got to spend an hour there and exhilarating because we were at the Egyptian Museum! What made it even more interesting was that both Mary and I have been reading the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters and we were getting to see some of the very same treasures she writes about. And here we’ve had our own mystery thing going on like Peabody herself would have been involved in!

After the museum we went off to the Hanging church in Old Cairo, in the Coptic Christian Center. It was interesting hearing about early Christianity from a Muslim tour guide and comparing Eastern and Western architecture. From there we drove to the Citadel, and roamed the fortress and its beautiful mosque.

And then to the market. Khan al-Khalili.

I could have easily spent the whole day at the market, amidst the merchants and hawkers, pouring through the trinkets, spices, and clothing, the jewelry and other bizarre and unusual things.

And yet, we only had an hour. And like the museum had been, it was both frustrating and exhilarating for all the same reasons –because who could ever think you can do the Egyptian Museum, or the Bazaar in just one hour?

I told Mary again I felt “gypped in Egypt,” but we convinced each other that it was okay, at least we got to see the pyramids and the market and we could always come back another time.

I found “Aladdin’s lamp” amongst the treasures and bought it as a souvenir.

Then it was back to the hotel for dinner and to pack, and finally it was time to go. Our van arrived to escort Dad and Ginny to the new airport, and Terye, Gabrielle and I to the old. But first there were hugs and goodbyes to be said, and more hugs, and yet more hugs again, and then we were off to our respective homes.

And so all that’s left is to write my overall impressions of the trip in general, of what it was like to be a blond female in Egypt with all my sisters in a strange and different world. But not now. I’ll do that later, after I’ve had a chance to rest my poor tired brain!



A Day in the Life

prompt: For Hire | Word Count: 1000 Words | Genre: memoir
Due Feb 26, 2020
Warning: None

A Day in the Life of a Traveling Sales Person


The music turns down abruptly as I rap my fist on the door a few times. A moment later, a cute guy in sweat pants opens it, a quizzical look on his sleepy face. Running a hand through dark, tousled hair he asks, “Can I help you?”

“Yeah, I hope so. I’m in the national cash awards contest trying to win a three week vacation to Europe.  I’m going through the neighborhood getting people to vote for me. I’m in second place and I only need thirty-nine more points to take the lead. Just think about it! London, Paris, and Rome.” I hold out my hand, give him my brightest, most confident smile. “My name’s Peggy, what’s yours?”

His handshake is firm and warm. His smile reveals a dimple in his right cheek. “I’m Joshua,”

I guess he’s about thirty, with a decent paying job, judging by the car in the driveway and the furniture I glimpse inside.

“Josh, it’s great to meet you. Maybe I could come in and tell you about the contest?”

Fifteen minutes later, I’m waving goodbye, having sold him a subscription to Car and Driver magazine.

It’s eleven a.m. and I’ve been working for about three hours. I’m halfway down the last of the four blocks that Charlie gave me to canvas. She’ll pick me up at noon, and drop me in another location after that. She probably won’t stop for lunch, either.

I hope she’ll let me work an apartment complex next, rather than houses; but I have to admit, this particular neighborhood has been pretty good to me so far. 

The homes are fairly new, mostly occupied by yuppies. The kind with disposable cash who don’t think twice about blowing twenty bucks on a magazine subscription.

At eighteen, I can’t even imagine what that would be like. 

I knew when I got hired three months ago that I wasn’t gonna make a lot of money with this job. It was an opportunity to get out of Montana, and back to California. To travel and see the country firsthand. I get paid a small percentage of the subscriptions I sell, but it’s barely enough to cover the eight dollars a day they charge me for being a member of the group. They say it pays my share of the hotel rooms, and the gas and upkeep of the five vehicles they use to shuttle us around from neighborhood to neighborhood. From city to city, crisscrossing the western United States, chasing the sun.

The door is slammed in my face at the next house, and the one after that goes unanswered.  

At the next house, a soap opera is playing on the TV. I can see it through the screen door. A twenty-something girl, striding across the living room sees me before I even knock. She comes to greet me, a little boy riding her hip. He’s got a leaking sippy cup clutched in his hand, soaking the front of his shirt.

“Hi there,” I say, with a shy smile. “My name’s Peggy. I thought I’d stop by to see if I could get your vote. I’m in the national cash awards contest, and I’m in second place. I only need seventy-eight more points to take the lead, and if I do, I’ll win a three week vacation to Europe. Is this your boy? He sure is cute. What’s his name?”

“Oh, thanks. Yeah. This is Ryan,” she drops an affectionate kiss on his cheek. “Why don’t you come in and tell me about your contest.”

Twenty minutes later she’s thanking me for stopping by. She bought Parenting magazine for herself, and Architectural Digest for her husband.

A couple of guys are hanging out in the open garage next door, leaning under the hood of an old beat up truck. They’re drinking beer, though it’s not even noon.

I won’t get any “votes” here, I think, except maybe for popularity, so I quietly pass them by without drawing attention to myself.

There’s still a half hour before Charlie will be here to pick me up, and my stomach is starting to growl with hunger.

The house at the end of the street looks a little run down. There’s a white picket fence around the yard. I close the gate behind me, and approach the house. Up on the porch I find a little old lady, her clothes and the state of the porch tell me she’s likely a widow on a fixed income. 

She’s sitting in an old wooden swing, just looking out on the day, as if she’s lonely and waiting for someone to come a-callin’.  Something stirs in my heart and suddenly I feel a long ways from home. I find myself longing for my family, especially my mom, and her home cooked meals. 

“Good morning, Ma’am,” I say, casting my voice loudly in case she’s hard of hearing, stopping at the bottom of the steps respectfully. 

“Hello there,” she says, with a slight frown on her puzzled face. “Do I know you?”

“Oh no, my name’s Peggy. I’m not from around here. Some friends and I are doing a scavenger hunt. I thought maybe you might be able to help fill in some of the missing pieces from my list?”

“A scavenger hunt! My goodness, I didn’t think you young people ever played that game anymore. What’s on your list?”

This is a game I’ve played before, usually right around lunch time. I pull a wrinkled piece of paper from my back pocket and hand it to her. “I still need an old shoe lace, a key, a bottle cap, and…” I hesitate for just a moment, then I blurt it out, like a question, “and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

“You don’t say!” She lights up like I’m a long lost grandchild. “Well then. You just come with me and I’ll fix you right up.” With a sly grin, she asks “are you sure you wouldn’t prefer ham and cheese?”

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Grace in the Morning - part 2

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

Grace Comes at Night Part 1

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

Grace Comes  at Night by Peggy Rockey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do that! I don't care.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No! Oh, no! You can’t go in there!”

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

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

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


*_*


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*_*


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

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

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