Writing Prompt “Guilty Secrets”
Theme: Guilty Secrets
A Note from Ken F:
I like the idea that the most unexpected and perhaps shocking secrets can be kept by all sorts of people. In fact, a guilty secret can be kept by absolutely anybody from Popes to Kings to ordinary people. As the writers, are we going to tell that secret or keep quiet about it?
The choice is yours.
There are no other required elements except for the 1200 word count.
Word Count: 1,200
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102 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Guilty Secrets””
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She’d been in hospital for several weeks when I finally found time to visit her. Although I’d grown a beard and my hair was longer than it had ever been, she recognized me straight away.
“There’s my Billy,” she said, forcing a gummy smile.
I leaned over to give her a hug. She was all skin and bone, and I felt I had to take care so as not to break anything.
“How are you doing, Nana?” I tried to sound upbeat.
“Oh, you know – mustn’t grumble,” she said. She had every reason to grumble but it was just like her not to. She’d had her fair share of ailments over the years, always facing them with great fortitude.
This ailment, though – this disease – was going to be the last she would have to suffer. I knew, it, my father knew it, the doctors and nurses knew it. And I think Nana knew it, too.
“How are they treating you, Nana?” I asked, making conversation.
“They’re all lovely,” she said, beckoning me closer to whisper: “Especially the foreign ones!”
She winked, her smile becoming a bit of a gurn. I saw that her teeth were on the cabinet by her bed. They had bits of half-masticated food stuck to them.
“Hang on, Nana,” I said and took the teeth in a tissue to the en-suite bathroom. I scrubbed them with the toothbrush that was there and returned.
I handed her the teeth and she put them back into her mouth, her twisted hands fumbling at the task.
“How’s that?” she said, smiling again, this time flashing the teeth.
“Lovely, Nana. I bet the doctors can’t keep their hands off you!”
She let out a laugh that became a cackle, then a cough – a deep, phlegmy hack that shook her body. I got off my chair to rub her back and after a few moments the cough subsided. She sighed and shook her head.
“Bloomin’ cough,” she rasped.
She looked over at me then and held out her hand, which I took; it was prophetically cold.
“You’re a good boy, Billy. Always have been. Remember Carslake?”
How could I forget? Nana had lived in a cottage called Carslake, until she couldn’t look after herself anymore. I’d spent many a summer there in my youth; my mother died young, and my father had to travel on work, so in the holidays Nana would look after me. And she treated me like a prince.
I’d enjoy the countryside around and about during those hot summer days (at least they always seemed hot, but maybe that’s my selective memory). Then at lunch time and in the evening, Nana would prepare food that I can still taste today. She’d never nag me, trusting that I wasn’t getting up to anything naughty – which was mainly true. Halcyon days.
“Course I do, Nana,” I replied, giving her hand a little squeeze.
“You know, they were the happiest days of my life,” she said.
This was a little surprising; it should have come from me.
She merely winked again and turned to look out of the window. There were some crows perched on a branch of a naked tree. When Nana turned back, she was frowning.
“In my room at the home,” she said, enunciating each word as if to make sure the message was clear, “there’s a wooden box. Locked. The key’s here.”
And she flipped out a chain that was around her neck but concealed by her nightgown.
“Help me,” she said. And I pulled the chain over her head and held it limply in my fingers, the key dangling.
“My will’s in the box. There’s not a lot coming, I’m afraid, but it’s yours, Billy. You just need to give it to your father. He’ll know what to do with it.”
“All right, Nana. But you can give it to me yourself when you get out.”
She knew I was fibbing, I could tell. But she didn’t say anything.
“One thing, though, Billy,” she said after a while. “Besides the will, there’s a diary. Now, you have to promise me something.”
“Of course, Nana,” I said, shrugging.
“No, I mean you have to promise. Like you did back then.”
I knew what she was referring to. One summer at Carslake, the dog of a neighbour of hers – Mr Beasley, a right bastard – had turned up dead, its throat cut. He accused me because he’d seen me at the bottom of his field the same afternoon. Nana had made me promise that I’d had nothing to do with it.
“All right, Nana. I promise. Cross my heart, point to God, on my life, hope to die.”
“There’s a good boy,” she said. “Now, I want you to take that diary and burn it. You mustn’t read it, mind. Burn it. All right?”
“All right, Nana.”
She looked at me now with a gaze so deep, so searching. I crossed my heart again and I could see her relax.
We spent the rest of the afternoon reminiscing about Carslake, until I could see that she was getting tired. Then I gave her another hug and left her.
The hospital rang the next day to tell me that she’d died during the night.
I went to the hospital to pick up the death certificate, and armed with that, straight to the home.
The manageress eyed me suspiciously – she’d never seen me before, after all – but the certificate was enough to give me access to Nana’s room. She had all her favourite ornaments lined up on a kind of sideboard – nothing of value there – and next to it was the box.
I used the key Nana had given me and lifted the lid. The will was on top. I slipped that into my pocket and took out the diary, with its worn leather cover.
I opened it and began to read.
You are a very naughty boy, as my Nana would say when me or either of my two brothers did, or said something naughty.
I love the way you recreate that feeling, that closeness between children and their grandparents. It is something special and different to that between parents and their children.
The ending came as a shock and for that, I thank you. Who wants predictable endings, anyway?
I like this Nana, precious but not perfect!
Pretty evocative lines as well…..
1: There were some crows perched on a branch of a naked tree. When Nana turned back, she was frowning.
Something about what she saw brought out the naked truth, the hidden guilt. Or am I seeing too much into those crows 🙂
2: Then the chain being removed off her neck. Can visualize her gnarled hands, her wrinkled neck.
I kinda expected this Billy would read the missive. He was in bit of hurry to pick up that death certificate.
And then suspense! We will never know what’s in that letter!!
There’s a bloodstain on the floor by the altar in our church. Repeated attempts to remove it have failed. And there is a hole in the middle of the stain, like a nail was driven home. It’s a symbol, some say, of God’s wrath as they shiver and draw their cloaks of piety closer around their shoulders.
I was only a child when Father Thomas died on that very spot and even to this day worshippers and the idle curious still gather in small groups, shuddering at the thought of what happened. They look down at the floor then up to the restored East Window, it’s three panels depicting events from Jesus’ life in glorious colour. When we heard the news, all of us children raced to the church to see if it was true. Once there we just stood at the door, denied access to the scene of death but all too aware of the whispered conversations of the adults taking place over our heads that we were not supposed to hear.
I didn’t understand why our priest had died. He had been taken, by God, some were saying. I simply remembered his gentle hands upon my shoulders in Bible Class and the feeling that I was one of his “special” pupils.
“Such a terrible loss,” said one idle bystander on the day it happened as the crowd swelled by the church door as word went around the town.
“His preaching was a joy to behold,” said another.
“Sermons were a tad long though,” another offered her opinion.
“He had just been to confession,” said one.
“I wonder what he confessed?” others asked.
“Must have been something truly sinful,” some suggested.
“Perhaps God was angry with him,” others speculated, wringing their hands in vicarious satisfaction.
The final consensus was that God had taken our priest and for reasons that I never understood. Not then, anyhow.
Those who were present at the actual moment when the lightning bolt smashed through the East Window, the real witnesses, those with first-hand knowledge, not the hangers-on who tried to pretend it was their story, are still invited to coffee mornings and village institute meetings where they can recount the tale, “ The day our priest was taken.”
“Father Thomas was pinned to the floor like a specimen butterfly by a metre- long, lead- weighted glass shard,” they say with relish. He had been kneeling in front of the altar, praying after confession, when the crash of breaking glass and the blinding flash made him look up. At that very moment he was speared through the heart. He lay there with his arms open wide, as if mirroring the crucifix that, until that moment, had been depicted in the window above him. His crimson blood blossomed outwards, joining up with thousands of glass fragments that had rained down all around him.
Our church, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, may not be the largest in the parish but it is the most beautiful. A wealthy benefactor, perhaps seeking to secure a place in Heaven, had commissioned the Great East Window some three hundred years ago. Successive generations have stood beneath it ever since and marveled at its beauty. The church was a testament to the master craftsman’s skill and vision and years of toil and sweat. The East Window itself was a three sectioned masterpiece. The largest panel, the central one, depicted the Crucifixion. I dared only to glance at this part as its imagery was too stark, too awful for my youthful imagination to contemplate, the red blood too real. The left hand panel showed Jesus in the desert being tormented by the Devil and the blazing sun. On the right hand side Jesus was bidding his disciples to cast their nets again into the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee, whilst shepherds looked down from the grassy hillside. Whenever I closed my eyes to pray, all I could see were the reds, yellows, blues and greens through that glass.
From as early as I can remember, I attended the Sunday morning family service. At certain times of year the sun beamed rainbows through that window, splashing over the altar and spreading into the front pews. The limestone and granite pillars rose sheer above our upturned faces, the columns like grasping fingers, reaching upwards, Heavenwards, ever hopeful, for such was our faith, my faith, when I was young. I sometimes wish I could turn the clock back to those days.
Our Sunday-best clothes added further lustre to the slippery smooth, centuries old carved oak pews. Dust motes rose and drifted from polished shoes that rested upon kneelers that no-one knelt upon. The all-pervading ecclesiastical odours of incense, damply foxed hymn books, dust and sweat wove their way through the strands of love, fear and guilt to form an eternal chain that anchored some to their religious faith, whilst imprisoning others.
The light through that window used to pick out the congregation. My family, devout worshippers for generations, occupied the front pew, an honour coveted by many other families. On those sunny Sunday mornings I was suffused in blue, lit by that biblical Sea of Galilee. It was good. I liked blue. Blue was for the heavens and piety, I was taught. Mother was next to me, bathed in a pleasant shade of green from the shepherds’ hillside. Green for caring and faith. Mum liked that, especially the way it used to set off her church-best skirt. Only her hand, holding mine, was tinted blue.
Dad was habitually a breathless, almost-late-finding-somewhere to-park-arrival, winking at us as he eased his way into the last space as we all shuffled along to accommodate his bulk. The sweaty pink baldness of his pate took on a sunny shade of yellow from that sun, blazing down upon Jesus in the Wilderness and Dad in his pew.
Before every service Father Thomas stood at his lectern, his face stern and impatient, his love of mankind not extending to the final latecomers as they slid guiltily into their pews, touching their forelocks in apology, spreading familial embarrassment along their rows. We knew never to be late for Bible Class and risk being out of favour, no longer special.
When Father Thomas faced us, his back was suffused in red through the window. Red was for the blood of Christ, the crown of thorns, Jesus’ suffering, he taught us. As he turned away from us, it was his face that reddened.
Once I had grown to be an adult, red become synonymous with Father Thomas’ weakness and his guilt.
Then I understood that lightning strike.
An excellently written, and well told, story. It seems you may have found your recently missing writing muse and he/she/it has returned in full form showering this story with sparkling phrases and marvelous metaphors.
The only thing I see holding you back from a possible clean sweep is the dialogue prize – which would be quite a coup with no dialogue.
A story that allows one to make their own conclusions.
Good to see you back in action.
One thing that made me stop to think and introduced a little bit of incongruity was the idea of the colours – not the presence and significance of them, as such (that’s beautifully handled) but the idea that every Sunday, the members of the congregation and the priest would,be bathed in the same colours, and during the whole service. Perhaps if the observation of the colours could have been just for a few moments during the last service before the priest’s death, that would make more sense (it would for me, at least).
But a really beautifully crafted story, anyway.
A winner for me, unless someone writes that werewolf-in-a-spaceship story that I have been hankering for.
I loved the stained glass and your attention to detail when it comes to describing it and the church and each beam of light, it made me quite jealous and it wasn’t syrupy.
You did a fantastic job of addressing the nuances of service in this kind of church and growing up this way and you even touched on some darker things, but you never overtly said anything and you toed an invisible line very carefully!
There is some strong spirituality and wise philosophy in here, but tastefully done and just the right amount.
I was impressed at first and then I wanted it to end before you went and ruined the feeling, but it just got better and better.
And my shins and knees still hurt from those kneelers…
Your descriptive language is excellent. the imagery you evoke is impressive. Your story well crafted, but I have one problem. Sorry to be a party or writer pooper. It is this. What is the guilty secret? I wanted something stronger to leave me breathless and fearful. The ending was kind of vague for me. But otherwise excellent writing and smashing story or a lightning bolt of a story. Just tweak the ending somehow … and then for me ( Note, only me) it is perfect.
Do it Yourself.
Oh man but the whole conundrum of transforming when you see a full moon or when the light bathes you… how does that work? Is it only our moon? And what distance is required? Would you get a different transformation or larger wolf form when you get closer to the moon, or how about walking on the surface itself?
Is it the actual light that does it, or something more ethereal or astrophysical like a mysterious wave or magical force?
And why would the phases matter so much, unless it really is just intense moonlight that does the trick?
It would be lame to be a werewolf in space but you can’t transform because you are 10 light years away from the only moon that can give you cool powers!
The descriptions are beyond telling. Reminded me of the church I grew up in- Anglican it was. It had the similar stained glass arched windows and the sun’s rays streamed through them.
I was wondering why the Mom’s hand was tinted blue. Then realized that the whole place is suffused with a blue tinge.
The comments of the congregants are so typical.
The late arrival, guilty sliding into the pews.. are still so familiar. 🙂
Loved this line. “his love of mankind not extending to the final latecomers as they slid guiltily into their pews, touching their forelocks in apology, spreading familial embarrassment along their rows.”
I’m glad you didn’t divulge the secret. It’s between him and God. And if he confessed, the rest have no business to judge.
The village looked prosperous; larger than the one she’d left behind.
“Where you from?” asked the innkeeper.
“Out Stagy Mountains way,” Neera replied.
“Really?” a handsome, muscular lad bounded over. “Did you meet a band of adventurers with a girl, Isanna?” Seeing the woman’s blank look, he elaborated, “A tall, dark-eyed Lantrian beauty. Brave, noble …”
“Yes, I did,” she replied shortly. “They came through on the way to the Beast’s lair. Never saw them again.”
The boy missed a curled lip.
“Please, tell me more!” he pleaded. “We … made a promise to each other.”
“She was rude,” Neera said curtly.
They had come to her little house at the edge of the forest not two moons past: a band of adventurers armed with assorted weapons – noisy, bright-eyed, and certain that they were the heroes fated to slay the fearsome Stagian Beast. Someone had told them Neera knew the hiding place of the fabled Crystal Sword of prophesy – the only weapon that could kill the Beast.
“Quick, take us to the Sword, old woman!”
“… but first, give us something to eat! …”
“… and to drink! …”
“I don’t know of any sword. Begone, pests!” Neera bristled. She wasn’t that old!
“Where’s your gratitude?!”
“We came to save you, you fat cow, and that’s the thanks we get?”
Only one green-eyed lad looked uncomfortable, but he said nothing.
“Show us proper respect, Salese dog,” a girl with a sword on her hip sneered. “You aren’t fit to lick our boots.”
Her eyes were dark like Neera’s, but otherwise she was the woman’s opposite: young, slim, pretty and bold; and Lantrian. Lantrians were beloved and admired by all, no matter how many of Neera’s people they brutally slaughtered. Neera had been wary of her from the start; now she hated the chit.
“Get out of my unworthy house, then,” the woman snarled, “I hope the Beast chokes on you.”
“No-one talks to us like that!” The young louts drew their weapons. Neera reached for her poker, but what could she really do against armed warriors?
“Come on, the woman clearly knows nothing. Let’s go,” The green-eyed lad called out desperately.
They left after that, kicking over the furniture and trampling over her vegetable patch, while Neera seethed in helpless fury.
Once sure the little bastards were gone, she stole into the forest, following a trail of barely-noticeable markers with writing in old Salese script. Despise her people, would they? She came to a hollowed-out tree, put her arm in the hole, and withdrew a sword that sparkled in the dappled sunlight. The sword felt lighter than it should have. They didn’t deserve it. She took it home, just in case someone else told them where the Sword was hidden, and hid it in the cellar.
Whether they’d bought a fake from one of the fraudsters who abounded in these parts, or decided to proceed even without the Crystal Sword, the adventurers must have reached the Beast’s lair by the time the crescent moon turned gibbous. One day a great deal of noise and flashes of light came from high in the mountains. The sound of human screams didn’t reach the valley where her village lay, but Neera was sure entire band was dead, like all that had come before.
“Serves them right,” she grumbled to herself, and put them out of her mind.
A few days later, the Stagian Beast accosted Neera in a glade, on her way to return the Sword to the hollow tree. It reared out of the trees with a roar, opening a huge reptilian maw full of sharp teeth. Neera barely dodged a hot cloud of noxious black fumes that shot out. The Beast stalked towards her on hind legs as she desperately raised the Crystal Sword. It towered over her, raising long rending claws as it lunged. Neera saw her death. She flailed the sword wildly –
It ran the Beast through. This wasn’t supposed to happen: all the prophesies said the Crystal Sword only worked for one with a pure heart. So that was a lie, like so many other things.
The Beast’s own thrashing got it off the sword more than Neera’s frantic attempts to pull the weapon out. Green blood flew from the wound onto dark red scales. The Beast stumbled, then came at her again.
Neera swung the sword awkwardly – and it sheared right through the Beast’s neck. The head fell down, huge jaws still snapping in her direction. Blood gushed from the stump, turning into small lizard-like creatures as it hit the ground. They crawled all over Neera, biting, scratching, trying to get into her mouth … She stabbed the carcass over and over, until all movement stopped and the little vermin vanished.
Neera couldn’t remember how she’d staggered home to collapse in her bed, exhausted and feverish from the bites. Nor how many days passed before she was back on her feet. She made some food, watered her little garden, and tidied up the trashed house.
That night, the Beast appeared in her dream.
“Happy that you killed them?” it mocked.
“They deserved it,” she snarled, “and so did you.”
“They had a chance against me, you know,” the beast rasped. “Had they only had the Sword.”
“You killed them,” her eyes narrowed, “you’ve no right to blame me.”
The Crystal Sword appeared in Neera’s hand. Cutting the Beast to ribbons was as easy as chopping up meat for a stew with her kitchen knife.
In the morning, Neera wondered briefly why she’d dreamed of the Beast and not of the dead adventurers. They all had it coming, she thought with a scowl.
Her days went on as before. Make food. Tend to her garden. Spin wool. Weave cloth. At night, the Beast taunted her in dreams, and she slaughtered it with the Sword.
One day, Neera returned the Crystal Sword to the hollow tree in the forest. Back home, she went through her possessions, putting some in a bundle. There were surprisingly few things she wanted to take along, after all the years lived in the village.
That night, the Beast looked smug.
“You sent them to their deaths,” it jeered. “And now you don’t even have the Sword to stop me saying it.”
“I have the memory of it,” she retorted as the Sword appeared in her hand, solid and sparkling as ever. “That’ll do for you, for that’s all you are – a memory.”
She slashed at the Beast to show it she could, and green blood flowed.
“One day my offspring will track you down. Memory won’t help you then,” the Beast rasped before she sliced and diced it until there was nothing left.
In the morning, Neera went back into the forest and retrieved the Crystal Sword from the hollow tree. There were no scabbards in the house, so she wrapped it in a length of cloth the best she could. She added provisions to the bundle, shouldered it and the Sword, and headed for the high road.
The village didn’t look so nice anymore. Neera picked up her belongings and headed towards a farmer on a wagon, to ask for a ride.
A good solid story about slaying dragons, but I felt the ending could have been a tad more of an ending. It took me a while to realize it was tied to the beginning.
Enjoyed the blood and scales aspect of it, though. And, I really liked the way you painted the Lantrians as beautiful but ugly at the same time.
I didn’t mean you needed to really change it, but it was just me wanting a different ending than her simply riding away. Here’s my point I guess. She can’t outrun her dreams, with or without the sword, so I guess that’s what I was looking for. Some kind of.a different finish than her just looking for a new town.
Upon a reread, I think if you put the first paragraph last, it solves a lot of my problems. But those are MY problems. You, my dear, are the author and can tell me to stick the Chrystal Sword where the sun doesn’t … well, never mind, that sounds gruesome and painful.
You did leave it open for a sequel after all. Anyway, I did enjoy the story. I like dragon stories. My first published book mentions them and my second book (unpublished) deals with them.Lots of fun with dragons and so many possibilities.
What’s your published book called, & when is the second one coming out?
(I’ve learned two new words: ‘chit’ – for young girl – and a ‘gibbous’ moon. Thanks!)
I never actually watched Game of Thrones, but I read the books. I need to be in the right mood, though; sometimes I find them too nasty to enjoy.
I wanted to put the emphasis on the “guilt” (as per prompt) rather than the action (that must be the “meandering” section). I’m not sure what the best placement for the fight scene would be, & I’m afraid I won’t have time to rethink it before the deadline.
Finally, you’re welcome – always happy to help enrich people’s vocabulary :).
Fantasy ain’t really a favorite genre with all this slicing and dicing, and green blood.
The guilt factor was in her secret knowledge of the sword. So wherever she goes, she’ll be haunted.
I thought ‘fat cow’ and licking boots was a bit incongruous to the setting.
Thank you for the challenge to read something you don’t want to. 🙂
There’s everything to appreciate about this group.
I’m not sure why you find the adventurers’ insults incongruous to the setting. I tried to show them as bullies (plus, there’s a history of enmity and persecution between the girl’s people and Neera’s), but leave just enough doubt in Neera’s mind whether they’d deserved to die to make her feel guilty.
And the gult factor will definitely accompany Neera for a while, whether or not she meets any more living reminders like the boy at the start of the story.
Karma is a bitch. Karma is also the balance of life. Each soul arrives on this plane of existence with a mission. Some do not know their mission for this life. They spend their life’s journey blundering through the jungles of experiences without thought of an afterlife or an accounting.
I, however, am too aware. Karma has caught me in an iron grip, some would say. This is my final accounting before the inevitable happens. The hydrating drip in my arm will soon be replaced with a toxic mix of chemicals that will relax my muscles and finally there will be ones to stop my heartbeat. Then the blood will congeal and sink to my extremities, and I shall pass from this plane of existence to another. That has me curious as to whether the stories of hell and a place of divine punishment or its opposite, heaven, or nirvana – this place of divine pleasure and peace – do they really exist?
They say passing over is painless. I don’t believe them. Death is sometimes an excruciating experience. I take that from the expressions on the faces of the recently dead. No one wants or likes dying. Very few people pass out of this life with a smile, unless they are drugged or unconscious. That has been my experience.
I worked for many years as a nurse. I had loved the work. It was people based and I loved people and giving them comfort. I loved being able to care for them. It gave me a feeling of almost godlike satisfaction. I mean, I was in control and who doesn’t like that. I had the power to give release from suffering.
I particularly liked the way you could ease pain with a whole array of drugs at our disposal and as science got better, we got more and more tools for pain relief at our fingertips to ease the pain of the very young and the very old.
“Good morning Mrs. Edwards. How are we this morning?”
“Oh nurse Dorothy, everything aches. These old bones are just not what they used to be.”
“Have you had your tramadol yet?”
“Yes, dear. About an hour ago. I take two and they don’t seem to work so well these days.”
“Oh, dear. You poor thing. Let me see if I can get you something to top it up.”
“Can you? It would be such a help. I just don’t feel like moving with these aches.”
“I’ll be back in a minute. Don’t worry.” I would go off and do a little bit of creative bookwork for the medication charts. They were never checked very closely anyway. I got her a tablet of Tylenol and a shot of Fentanyl which I administered after she had swallowed the tablet with some water.
“thank you so much Dorothy. You are so kind.”
I patted her shoulder gently and arranged the pillows around her back and hips.
“Think nothing of it. My pleasure, Mrs. Edwards. Just glad to help you have a good day.” I blew her a kiss as I left.
She was the first person I released from her daily pain. It felt so good. It gave me a warm buzz of pleasure. I felt godlike.
The next day was not so good. I arrived at work, Jenny my supervisor was in tears.
“We lost Renee Edwards last night. She had a stroke during the night.”
“Oh, NO.” I felt a wave of sadness. I had not had a chance to say goodbye.
“The family are coming in today to clear out her things. So sad.”
“Well,” I said to comfort my colleague. “At least, she’s out of pain now.” Jenny gave me a startled look. Then she went back to filling in forms.
The next few days passed in a blur. Ron Thompson was the next person I helped. He was a lovely man. He had had a brain injury in his late twenties and had been in the home for quite some years. His wife had brought up the three children literally as a single parent. The insurance paid for the home. He had the accident at work on a building site. Jill his wife was an attractive woman still at forty-seven years of age. I wondered at her devotion to a man who was increasingly demented and sometimes quite aggressive. She deserved better and of course; the quality of his life left a lot to be desired. I upped his medication a little and added in a few extras one day after an episode where he had made Jill burst in a flood of tears. He’s better off dead I thought to myself, then she can find someone who is worthy of her.
There were questions around his sudden death, but the family decided against an autopsy. I probably helped a total of twenty-eight other people pass peacefully over the next few years at different homes.
It was only at the fifth home where I worked, that questions began to be asked. And only because a nurse I had worked with in the previous home also came to the Magnolia Happy Retirement Village.
So, I was charged with eight deaths because I was the medication nurse on duty when they died. Stupid really. People die all the time in Aged Care homes. They did not investigate too far back, but still the penalty when it came, shocked me.
So, twenty other deaths are my secret. It was a relief for the families when these people passed over into the next world. Jill Thompson who went on finally to remarry. Countless other people who were relieved of the burden of caring for relatives whose lives had ceased to be worth living, I thought.
“What religion are you?” They asked me when the time came closer. “You haven’t put anything down?”
“Are you an atheist or agnostic?”
Were they serious, I thought grimly?
“Neither.” I replied firmly.
“So, do you want someone to speak – to talk?”
“Does it matter?” I replied. “I’ll be speaking with the Big Boss on the day or the second in charge.”
The serious warder looked confused. “I assume the Big Boss is God, but the second in charge?”
“Satan. The devil.” I replied. A glint of sarcasm touched my eyes.
I swear the man trembled. I was fearless. Even to the end. They had a catholic priest brought in because that was who the prison chaplain was – a catholic. Now they believe in the devil and demons. He tried to get me to confess the total of my “sins”. But I was having none of it.
I looked him straight in the eye and demanded answers. He could give me none.
“Who do you believe God is?” I demanded of him. “Perhaps God and the Devil are one and the same? If God created all then, he obviously created the Devil or Satan? What do you say to that?”
He left my cell swinging his incense holder, the day before my execution by lethal injection.
A delicious irony – lethal injection.
The faces of twenty-eight souls appeared before my eyes as I descended into darkness.
This sentence starting the second paragraph – I, however, am too aware. – I might have written, as – However, I too, am aware. Or as – I, however, am also aware.
It just sounded clumsy to me and I actually had to reread it because I thought you meant the character to say I am ‘too’ aware, as in ‘too much’, not ‘also’. And, that might be a bit nit-picky, but hey, I thought I should point it out.
I have very much enjoyed writing alongside you all these eight or more years and hope there are a good many more to come.
She did some ‘creative bookwork’ for the charts!! Creepy to the core!
In the end she gets her just deserts. That’s satisfying.
Were they serious, I thought grimly? >Were they serious? I thought grimly.
‘Jill his wife was an attractive woman still at forty-seven years of age.’
I’d say there are some commas missing here.
47 is prime time of beauty. So is ‘still’ necessary?
By Roy York
Steve Colby placed his fork on his plate and signaled to the waitress. When she reached the table, he said,“Please tell Andre that was the best stuffed tortellini he’s ever made. I can’t believe I ate so much. Now, how about a nice glass of wine to finish things off.”
“Mr. Colby, we’ve got a brand new Chianti that I’ve been dying to try myself. You would be our first customer. The winery is having a contest for who sells the most.”
“Trish, If it will help you win, I’ll be glad to try it. Bring the bottle when you pour, I’d like to see it.” He asked his wife, Karen, if she wanted any and she shook her head.
“I’m afraid I’ve too much to do at the office to be drinking in the middle of the afternoon. I’m not sure you should be either,” she said, giving him a withering look.
Minutes later, Trish wound her way through the busy restaurant and poured the wine. Steve picked it up and looked through the glass, swirling it, He sniffed the wine and finally, took a swig. He swished it around in his mouth imitating all the wine sommeliers he had ever watched. “Not bad.”
His phone rang and after answering it, he turned to Karen and said, “We’ve got to get going. I won’t even have time to finish this.” He took another small sip, shook his head, and said, “Too bad, this was beginning to grow on me.”
He looked at his check and threw a one-hundred dollar bill on the table. “That should cover everything.” The two of them hurried out of the restaurant. As they passed by Trish, he said, “I’ve got to run … keep the change, it’s on the table.”
Trish smiled and waved goodbye. She went to the table and realized he had left her a very large tip. Sherry, another waitress, walked by and said, “Looks like Mr. Wonderful is still in love with you. How much did he leave you this time?”
“I happen to like him. He’s one of my favorite customers.”
“He was my customer first, till you came along.”
“You just mind your own business, our relationship is strictly platonic.”
“Yeah, right. He’d dump his wife in a heartbeat if he thought he had a chance with you. I think he’s a jerk.”
Minutes later, as Steve Colby was dropping his wife off at her office, he suddenly slumped over the wheel. He could hardly lift his head. His tongue had gone numb and his lips were slightly swollen. His throat felt constricted and he was having trouble breathing. His wife, fearing he was having a heart attack, called 911 immediately.
* * * * *
The doctor patted Steve on the back. “It was a close call. We’re not sure what caused it. It appears you had a major allergic episode, something we call anaphylaxis. Did you have anything to eat that was new or come in contact with anything you might be allergic to?”
“Nothing that I can think of. It’s one of the same things I always eat, and I had a couple sips of wine. Wait … the waitress told me the wine was a brand new type of Chianti and no one had tried it yet. I would be the first.”
“That could very easily be the problem. I’d call the restaurant to let them know if I were you so they can set that bottle aside.”
* * * * *
“Andre’s. How can I help you.”
“Hi, this is Steve Colby. Is Trish there?”
“She’s busy, would you like to leave a message?”
“I’d really like to talk to her.” “You can tell me, I’ll give her the message, but she can’t come to the phone right now.”
“Tell her to set that bottle of Chianti she served to me aside. There may be something wrong with it. I’m calling from the hospital. I had a major allergic reaction after drinking a few sips of it this afternoon and to be on the safe side, you shouldn’t serve that to anyone else. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but a full glass could kill someone.”
“I’ll be sure to tell her.” Sherry’s rolled her eyes toward the top of her head as she shook her head and ended the call.
Just then the manager walked by. “Anything important?”
“No, not at all. Just Trish’s lover boy calling to try and make a date. I’ll fill her in.”
Trish was bringing out a food order when Sherry came walking by. “Remind me when we get some time to tell you about the phone call I got twenty minutes ago.”
Suddenly, there was a loud crash in the dining room and both girls ran over to see what the commotion was about. Trish’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my gosh. That’s my table.” A customer had fallen from his chair, pulling the tablecloth and everything on it to the floor.
Two customers were already trying to help the customer who was in obvious distress. “I’ve called 911,” the customer said. “It looks like a heart attack.”
A bus boy came over at Trish’s direction and started picking up the broken crockery and glassware. He also took the partial bottle of wine with him back to the kitchen. At that moment the paramedics arrived. After a few minutes they left with the customer on a gurney, but at the ambulance, one of them pulled a sheet over the body as they put it in the ambulance which left without sirens.
It took a few moments, but gradually the restaurant was back in full swing; the recent incident – another story of ‘sure glad that wasn’t me’ – almost completely forgotten except to be related that night over dinner or at a cocktail party.
Trish was talking with the manager when Sherry walked up and asked “Does anybody know what happened?”
“They think it was a heart attack,” said Trish. “Funny, a guy as young as that. I was just taking his food to him. All he had was a glass of that new Chianti. It was only the second glass I was able to pour all day. I poured the other one for Mr. Colby earlier.”
Trish turned to Sherry and said, “Hey, what were you going to tell me about some phone call you said you got when everything hit the fan?”
Sherry’s eyes got wide, her thoughts swirling as she put two and two together. “Ummm … it was nothing. Nothing at all. I can’t even remember now, it was so busy and all. It wasn’t important.”
“Back to work girls. You can’t make any money here, and neither can I. Remember the contest and keep pushing that Chianti.”
A minor quibble: IMO the phrase “Sherry’s rolled her eyes toward the top of her head” would be better as “Sherry rolled her eyes” (the ‘s is superfluous, and “towards the top of her head” makes it seem as if Sherry is about to faint).
Thank you for your kind comments, and I really liked the way it ended myself. Don’t know in this group of excellent stories where it will end up, but I’m pleased with the way my writing has been lately. It’s gotta be the iron infusion managing to get enough oxygen to my brain cells. I feel much, much better these past few weeks.
On a funny point about “rolling her eyes”, I was at my son’s home a couple of years ago and my granddaughter who was 14 at the time and her mother got involved in a mother – daughter tiff over some minor thing and her mother told her something in no uncertain terms followed with, “And don’t you roll your eyes at me!” My granddaughter shot back with “I wasn’t rolling my eyes. I was trying too see the back of my head and what I was going to say next.”
I almost had to leave the room but managed to stifle my laughter. It did serve its purpose though, because everyone stopped to figure out what my granddaughter said, and the situation was diffused. 14 year old teenagers can be so much fun.
Your granddaughter’s remark killed me. LOL You might wanna stick it in another story. 🙂 That reminds me how my son (just turned 3) sometimes says or does something and, when we ask him why, he replies after a few moments, “I’m still thinking why”. Good to know kids’ responses get more creative as they get older. 🙂
The conversation runs smooth without a hitch.
Why would Sherry want to cause more damage, one wonders. Unless it’s to make Trish serve it each time to get her in trouble.
You got to be careful about what goes on in restaurants and hospitals… after this prompt!
Yikes! As if covid isn’t bad enough!
Thanks for your comments.
Actually, I was trying to portray Sherry in the light of “Damn, if I say what the call was really about, I might be guilty of manslaughter and go to jail. It’s bad enough someone just died, but I’m not going to go to jail for it. I’ll just hold on to that guilty secret and never tell a soul, regardless of what happens, even if someone else dies by my silence.”
What I’m hoping is it was just that one bottle of wine and that’s the end of it. But, being an author and maybe needing a story in the future, I can probably use that partial bottle of wine the busboy took back to the kitchen in a sequel, or maybe the entire case is tainted and it opens a bigger can of worms. Or a possible attempt by a disgruntled winery employee or imbedded terrorist dumping something into an entire barrel of wine shipped all over the country. Don’t think it couldn’t happen, just think about the home grown terrorist who was poisoning bottles of Tylenol just before halloween one year several years ago causing a major scare in this country. The possibilities are endless.
Another good story from you.
You hit the nail on the head re: the dialogue. Dialogue propels this story and with limited words and a lot of information it created the occasional lapse of flow. I just flat ran out of time to fix it. That, and the fact this story and the characters kept taking left turns I didn’t expect.
Colby doesn’t know who he talked to, and may hit a dead end when following up, just like I could have as I related the true life incident that triggered this story.
The story in the last contest wrote itself, and this one had to be drug, kicking and screaming, into the world. It’s much smoother when they write themselves.
Way back in the late ‘60s, in the beautiful state of Kerala, young girls were brought up under a very strict code of conduct. Any untoward behaviour was frowned upon by society, nosy aunts and strict dads.
That’s the time when pretty Anna grew up, a rebel from the start. Rebel in the sense that she dressed in attractive sleeveless tops, short skirts, a Marlyn Monroe pageboy haircut and painted lips. When regular girls of her age were forced to wear saris, long skirts, and oiled hair in braids.
She took these liberties especially when Papa went on his official medical inspection tours around the state. Nobody dared sneak a word on his return.
She was the vivacious, over ambitious second child of the family.
The one who wrote poetry at the drop of a cloud, who read voraciously all the Love Literature that she could lay her hands on. Papa, an ex air force doctor, was known to lay down the laws of correct behaviour which no one dared overstep. He didn’t believe in sparing the rod, and she never cowed down, but glared back defiantly at him, her eyes getting threateningly smaller, as if asking him for more.
So she broke all accepted norms, she did. She couldn’t help it being born with those extra abrasive genes.
Often incurring the wrath of the dad who would blow the roof down until my beautiful mama calmed him down.
That’s when our hero, handsome John, arrived on the scene from an African country. Well equipped, with the gift of the declamatory gab, excellent rationale, and a stunning nose, he was soon elected as chairman of the college union where he’d give an untold number of speeches for every bloomin’ meeting. Students were very politically aware those days. Girls would silently swoon.
Needless to say their eyes met one rainy day, their ears turned pink, as their hearts entwined forever.
What could she do? How could she get to know this sensible lad who seemed to have everything in his favour?
So it was with much audacity, she dauntlessly took the curvy winding college lane, the long route home knowing very well that good lookin’ John would be walking the same way.
They’d stop to talk for a fleeting second, greet each other as nerds do to debate on gravity or amoeba. They chose to stop at a corner of the lane hoping nobody would spot them.
Little did they reckon that an ol’ aunt’s home at the corner would stand in their way of greeting.
For at that opportune moment of discussing the nuances of Hopkins’s Windhover, the ol’ aunt would suddenly spot them through the gate. Then aunt would climb over a high bench in her garden, and peek over the wall at the two talking amoeba in all seriousness. Aunt’s nose would get so scrunched up in the process that her spectacles would fall from the height.
Then all you could see were two probing eyes over the wall.
The rest as they say is history.
The aunt would hastily call Mama to tell her she saw young Anna at the lane corner talking to a complete stranger. And, by the way, that wasn’t the way to their home.
“Mary, you better watch your girl,” Aunt Accha warned. But my cute heart Mama used her discretion and never told the roaring lion dad.
Who’d want an evening spoilt with tempers rising and noses flared?
The young lovers found their common love for literature. Then came an out of the blue chance to perform on stage for which their professor had chosen the play Flies by Jean Paul Sartre. Anna got the role of Electra and John became Orestus.
I told you earlier Anna was a rebel. She signed up for the role without the permission of her parents. Every day there’d be practice and she’d say it was a German class she was attending.
After two months of rehearsals, the day was fast approaching. The show was on. To be staged in the largest auditorium in the city. The posters were getting printed.
Anna got her first real scare. By no means did she want her name plastered all over town, so the two changed their names to Jan and Juna.
The posters were all out in front of the college and on billboards.
It was that big a deal in that little town.
That Sunday, riding in the car to church, Anna would’ve gladly been swallowed by the earth. There was a large poster printed at the church entrance. The highest ticket was all of 100 Rs- a big amount those days.
Papa hardly noticed it. Anna couldn’t contain herself and unburdened herself to mama that evening. There was no way she could back out now. Papa would be livid and Anna started having nightmares.
Mama, the calm operation mobilizer, told the younger brother to accompany big sis’ to the final rehearsals and also angle for a minor role in the play. My super strategist mama. She felt things were under control with her daughter being watched over by beagle-eyed younger bro’.
The brother procured the important role of shooing away flies from everywhere. He was the unannounced fly swatter.
The week of the play. By some unmerited grace and favour, Papa had to go on another official trip. Anna had been praying fervently for this and it happened. Let’s say it built her faith in a hitherto unknown faraway God.
We went to see the play. My mama and I got the cheapest tickets available. John’s parents had come from abroad and bought the front row ticket. The play could’ve been in latin if you ask me. It went completely over my 12 year old head. What I liked best was that my brother did marvelously, slapping invisible flies on his muscular arms.
During the interval, John’s mom broke the news to her husband, “those two prime characters are in love.”
“Love?” It shocked the dad, but he smiled a sigh of relief.
Things happened quickly after that.
Indian parents generally want to put a holy seal on everything before a bad name gets around. So the pair got engaged with the older ones blessing the simple ceremony.
Papa continued with his strictures. They couldn’t meet surreptitiously. John could visit our home at decent hours. Phone calls were monitored and spaced out. Anna could by no means be distracted from her studies.
As I write this, these two lovebirds, John and Anna, are now no more walking this earth. Each got called to our Heavenly Father 17 years apart.
They are finally home because of the One who died for the guilty.
Forever enjoying the love of the Lord, as the psalmist says. “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”
No more to bear the guilt of meeting in lonely college lanes even if they were only talking of amoeba, or was it the Tempest?
I will never know.
Now they roam rejoicing on the golden streets with no fear or shame of being spotted by nosy aunts with spectacles perched on scrunched up nose tips.
Another superb story from you. I like the interplay of the characters and how Sherry’s envy of Trish makes her lie to everyone about her.Sherry is a piece of work and quite psychopathic. An ordinary person but one who can cause the death of another if she sits to gain by it. Opportunistic.
Lovely understatement with the manager telling everyone to keep pushing the new wine. However I hope there is no wine out there with that effect on anyone. I don’t and can’t drink any alcohol so guess I am safe!! Hopefully.
It’s funny, that story is based on a true incident that happened to me. I actually had an event similar but not quite as severe with a glass of wine following lunch one day about 25 years ago and called the restaurant to alert them. A week later I talked to the girl who I called and she confessed she didn’t alert anyone, thought it was a ‘nut’ calling. I’m just glad no one died. But, I thought about that incident as i wrote the story.
Glad you enjoyed it.
A couple of things I’m still confused about:
Presumably, the story is told by Anna’s younger sibling. So why is Anna only ever referred to as “Anna”, not “my big sister” (cf “my Mama”)?
How did John’s parents end up in India in time for the performance? He is introduced as havng “arrived … from an African country”. I assumed he was a foreign student.
I gotta say, Anna was extremely lucky that no-one had told her Dad she’d been in the play, given that the whole town or at least neighbourhood must have attended. 🙂
I thought I would transition slowly to show Anna was of the family, and the story teller being the youngest sister who secretly admired her spunk.
Maybe I should make it clearer.. but dang this word limit.
John is also from India but had migrated as a young lad and returned home for his college.
So the parents were coming home to Kerala for their break.
Yes, Anna was lucky, dad didn’t know or the whole play would’ve been screwed!
Truth be told!
BTW, I thought the title was really cool (forgot to mention it in my previous comment), even if from a different era; IMO it’s a shame you want to change it – it added a sense of playfulness to the story.
Enjoyed the story.
Yes, these names are common in Kerala among the Syrian Christians- ie the old Christians from the time of Thomas. 52 AD.
So we have Abraham, Jacob, John, Zachariah, Thomas, Kurian, George and derivatives of that as well.
Like Oommen is a derivative of Thomas, the doubting guy. I used to be a Kurian- which sounds Armenian 🙂
Chacko is Jacob and so on…
Gosh I realize I’m a specialist of Malaphors! New word to me!
Malapropisms and Malaphors make sure the world doesn’t go square.
Thanks for telling me more of the song. The title by itself means Girl, how are you so amazing?
But GASP!! The lyrics don’t match my story at all.
Ergo I’ve asked for a change of title making it more soberly, sobbingly sincere.
Hope Carrie sees it.
Anna and John did live to be grandparents but sadly passed on much too early.
🙁 🙁 🙁
I just didn’t expect the – well, that’s all you’re going to find out about the two lovebirds. Anna is still studying and handsome John comes over occasionally.
Oh wait, they die. You just say it nicer. Still, I love the lyrical notion of your writing.
But I didn’t think it was necessary.
If you’re engaged, marriage can’t be far behind! In India, at least.
Thank you, Roy, for that lovely comment. It’s high honor to receive from you. I accept joyfully.
I know the title I gave this story may not fly!!
Sugar, how you get so fly? Is quite a popular song and my daughter was humming it.
So right then I connected it to the play: The Flies. By a far stretch of crazy imagination. 🙂
Had some fun while writing.
I am on holiday with very limited wi go. I will try to vote and comment but if not please accept my apologies especially as it is for my prompt.
When I heard the bus depart with those familiar hydraulic compressions and exhaust roars, I felt a little unease creep in. The apartment buildings were crammed all in a row, towering upward to block the sun, but no one seemed about. Traffic continued behind me while I rang for Mildred K. The door buzzed angrily, and I let myself in. A single coiled fluorescent light bulb flickered in the foyer. I looked up to see that it was the only one of four recessed cans in the ceiling that was giving any light.
“Down here, young man,” she called. “Down this way.” I could hear her but I could not see her, and the echo in the hallway disoriented me so that I looked both directions before I spotted a silver beam of light. I walked toward the light, chuckling to myself how I was letting imagined morbidity affect my mood. “Badge please,” she said when I got to the door. “I like to see the badge.” I pushed my Visiting Nurses Association ID into the sliver of light about where I saw her eye. Her eye saw the badge and flicked up and down to see me, comparing my awful photo with my actual face. “Good enough,” she said. The echo of the door’s slamming came back to me while I listened to her wrestle with the door chain.
It opened to a woman stooped over a walker. She was pushing it to a chair in the kitchen. “Sit down! Sit down!” She gestured to the chair on the other side of the little dining table. “My husband used to sit there. You’re a fine one; yes, you are, but you’re no replacement for him. No replacement.” She wouldn’t let me help her sit. “You mustn’t,” she laughed. “If you don’t use it you lose it.”
Her eyes flicked around the kitchen. “You know I bought this house after he died.”
I said, “No, I didn’t know that.”
She looked at me. “Oh dear, have I been telling stories again?”
I said, “No, it’s just that I’ve never been here before. This is my first time visiting you.”
“Eh?” She cocked her ear toward me. “I have a hearing aid,” she said, “but the battery died last week. What did you say?”
I shouted, “I AM NEW.” Her eyes measured me. I hadn’t sat down yet.
“I bought this house after he died, with the insurance money. I didn’t want to live in the farmhouse after he died. We lived there together for fifty-one years. It was a nice house. I got a good price for it so I could live in this house. Come, come! I will show you! It’s a nice house! Custom-made for an old lady like me.” She struggled valiantly against decrepitude and managed to get behind her walker again. It never occurred to me to correct her, that this was, in fact, an apartment building. I chalked it up to a bit of oncoming dementia.
She led me into a large sitting room, except it was devoid of anywhere to sit. Even in such a small apartment, the room took on an enormity, as if it had been punched and stretched out to twice or three times its intended size.
“What did your husband die of?” I asked.
She answered without hesitation, “Cancer. Well, not quite cancer. He had cancer, and then, in the middle of the night about two years ago, he walked out of the house and was never seen again. They found shoeprints belonging to him at the riverside.” She stopped.
“Oh, that’s sad,” I said.
In the sitting room were awe-inspiring armoires, of oak, of mahogany, of cherry, of pine, massive storage armoires. “Yes, these are my pride and joy,” she said, motioning to these gigantic sarcophagi. They managed to fill each wall of the room, yet their enormity caused them to lean toward the room’s center. I pushed on one, out of trepidation. “Oh, don’t do that, honey,” she said. “I love to collect antiques, but the antiques don’t like to be handled, especially that one.” She gestured to one in the corner. “That one used to hold someone’s amontillado collection.”
“Sorry,” I said. I swung my head around to see if she was angry with me. I saw, in one corner, an electric mobility scooter.
She saw my gaze. “Yes, when I’m tired, I use that to get around the house.” When she was satisfied that I was properly impressed with her antique armoire collection, she corralled me back into the kitchen, where we visited for a while. After I took her blood pressure and a few other points of health data. I went home.
I tossed and turned all night, mulling over what I had seen in my mind. Something in that apartment was out of place.
The next week, at the appointed time, I went through the same ritual, proceeding down that dark hallway toward the silver beam of beckoning light. She greeted me as usual, and I stayed on for a while longer than usual, listening to her tell tales of when things were so much cheaper, and how much she had paid for the house, and how valuable those armoires must certainly be, by now. Perhaps, she said, she might sell one to go visit her grandson in Massachusetts, but groceries were so expensive and no one would help her and oh, my, it went on. Eventually, she had to use the bathroom.
She moved herself with great difficulty to her walker, then shuffled gingerly against the walker to the bathroom on the other side of the sitting room. When I heard the bathroom door latch, I crept up to the first armoire, opening its door. Nothing was inside, nothing but dust. The next one was the same. The third one, the one in the corner, was situated in such a way that light would not illuminate the inside. Opening the door seemed to block all the ambient light. I bent over to investigate and stretched myself out over my toes. Just as my eyes were adjusting to reveal a pile of something, I heard the whine of the electric motor just behind me. She knocked me inside, closed the door, and heaved the door to. Before I could come to myself, I heard a heavy lock turn into place.
I am in an armoire. My phone is on the table. It will be days before I am missed. I suspect I will die in here. I am writing this on the back, hopefully, of some medical forms with my name on it. These skeletal remains beside me are my only witness. Please tell my mother. No one can hear me screaming.
–JAMES R. TIGEFIELD, Det. [signed]
I’m confused by a couple of details:
“SUSPECT DECEASED” – does this mean the old lady died?
“… situated in such a way that light would not illuminate the inside” – was the armoire open, an why? To the best of my knowledge, if an armoire is closed it’s impossible to see what’s inside; so it would have been easier to just keep it closed.
“Suspect Deceased” is supposed to be an ambiguity. What did the detective find out? Why? How? Etc.
I’ll look at the wording of the armoire thing.
Otherwise, you write well and the story is very well handled on the creepy side. Enjoyed it. Look forward to seeing more of you on these pages.
My blood would have turned cold when I heard that one!
Nice nod to Poe!
This was definitely creepy and original – I see no problems.
Haven’t had the time to write one of my immensely entertaining stories once again. It’s not out of generosity or kindness, let’s be clear. If I wrote something, I would win, unless someone like Roy, Phil, Vicki, Ken, Fiddlesticks, Robt., Carrie, Max, or Marion… Sneezy, Grumpy, Andy, Ilana, Gorby, Fitz, the other Ken, Trish-Liz, Bones, Savant, etc. decides to post a story as well.
Speaking of names:
Where is Ken Miles?
Where’d THAT guy go? Anyone know? Does anyone give a crap? That we’re missing Ken Miles? That guy is so full of bubbly, creative optimism. Changing everyone else’s stories, making light of things, and writing marvelous stories.
Hope it ain’t something with his eyes again.
Connecting to the web hasn’t been easy lately either. (What with the Warden’s new guidelines, the guard rotation and all. This will all probably be edited out before you read it. Or not, they’re not really interested in reading our emails, so I throw in all those names at the beginning to bore them. They fall asleep real easily.)
So, I’m prepared to offer up my confession, but I have a few conditions. Everything comes with a price. The first thing I’m going to need is a cantaloup, a fresh one of course. Carved into the likeness of Haile Selassie. Then… okay no, I was kidding about that. Just a fresh cantaloup.
I still haven’t read everyone’s stories, only Phil’s which is great, but I will have someone tie me to a cliff-face as the tide is coming in, and hold an I-pad in front of my face until I’ve consumed this weeks smattering of entries. No chance of me writing a story this week, no time, unless the deadline gets extended, and I get some conjugal time. And ‘Pee-wee’ over in Block C doesn’t get any more romantic notions.
Till next time,
Sending us a funny comment doesn’t sub for one of your well written stories my friend. The cantaloupe is on its way. To claim it, go to your local fruit stand and tell ‘em I sent you. Now, get your shit together and get a story in.
It’s nice (understatement) that you didn’t forget about me. And thanks for your exceptionally nice words too. (now don’t take them down, as soon as I thanked you for them!).
It’s just that the past few prompts didn’t quite stir me up. Or it’s because I sort of didn’t feel like writing at all, like what’s the point of writing fiction and all that BS that we sometimes ask ourselves. I was going to pass this prompt too (and how can’t one get some workable idea from such an evocative prompt!? It all proves it must be me not feeling in the mood, and not the prompts).
But when I saw your message, I penned one quickly. So it’s dedicated to you for having looked for me 🙂 Thank you. You’re welcome. Don’t mention it. Much appreciated, really.
It’s been written rather quickly, last minute, with little time for revision, so there may be some grammatical blunders… Roy, Phil? All the language police out there? This story probably needs you.
Asking you for a Title Change of my story.
Please could you change my title to ….The Weave of True Love.
I don’t see the usual edit option.
by Ken Miles
“A plant can’t have attacked you!” the doctor tells me, as if hinting at something I didn’t tell him.
The nurse continues to dab copious cream on the marks the ivy left around my collarbone, just over my breasts and the down my left arm. The wounds weren’t painful, just a bit ticklish. Quite a pleasant kind of ticklish. But the doctor insisted they be treated.
I could’ve died, the doctor said, if that ice-cream guy didn’t drag me out in time, away from the ivy’s cling.
“The ivy didn’t attack me,” I say to the doctor, “it’s more like it embraced me.”
The doctor affords me a wide smile, making me feel silly. He tells the nurse that I need rest, and leaves.
I roll back my memory. The ice-cream guy from across the street had told me not to get into that house. It was cursed, he
said, a woman had slept in there with a bishop. People threw wooden crucifixes at the two-storied townhouse. I saw many of them, rotting, stuck in the giant weeds and the massive ivy that covered the gothic masonry.
There was palpable fear. When I got out of my car in front of the house, passers-by hurried their pace and crossed to the other side. They gave me side-glimpses and many crossed themselves as they vanished in the mist of dust the wind lifted.
Only the ice-cream guy got close enough, warning me not to get in. But I’d driven all the way from New York to this godforsaken town in Louisiana to see the house I’d just inherited.
Dad never mentioned this house. And the only thing I knew about Louisiana is that I was born there. Life started in New York, when dad dragged his two-year old girl with him there.
He never spoke of mom, either. I didn’t know her at all. I never even saw a picture of her. Yet I missed mom dearly. When I pressed dad for more on her, he got all worked up. He was a fortress, impenetrable. Eventually he did give in. Not to my questions, but to a bullet right through his own head.
At eighteen, I found myself alone in the world, the last crumb of an extinguished dynasty. Then the letter from the attorney came, with the news of a house I didn’t know existed.
I tried to ignore the flurry of people glancing, horrified, at me as I pushed the wrought-iron gate separating the overgrown front-garden from the public sidewalk. It resisted me, at first – it hadn’t been opened in years. When I pushed harder it bit back at my hand, burying in my flesh a sharp rust splinter that had pierced its way through the flaking black paint. The gate finally surrendered with a shrieking squeak, not unlike the crows’ cawing overhead from atop the conical steeple of the house’s stairway tower. A bead of blood formed on my hand, but I chose to ignore it.
That’s when the call from the realtor came in, the ringtone cutting into the raspy air. Something had cropped up, he said, he couldn’t come to meet me. More like he read the address carefully! He said people there always left a spare key under the main-door rug, and there it certainly was.
I took a long look at the façade, before I inserted the key. Even from that near, nothing but the hovering staircase stood as proof that there was actually a structure of brick and mortar behind the massive dark foliage. The ivy clung chokingly to the walls of the house, jealously guarding its every secret.
Inserting the key, I had to snap off an ivy branch that ventured right across the door, blocking the way.
It wasn’t from my hand. I don’t know much about ivy, and didn’t think that dark red blood, very much like ours, traveled through their branches. Blood kept dripping. I quickly turned the key, and pushed the door in.
I expected a musty interior, but I was instead greeted by a well-kept house, very homely, as if someone took care of it tenderly, despite its unkempt exteriors.
I took the old-fashioned staircase housed in the coned tower I’d seen from outside, my shoes sinking in plush carpeted stairs.
There were three rooms upstairs, all closed. I saw my name, “Hattie”, on one door, so I slowly turned the knob.
“Come to me!” I heard. It was a soft female voice, hardly discernible. I was sort of prepared for this. My mind plays games with me. I know it happens every time I’m messed up. There was just too much for me to handle in this house. I should’ve told the realtor to put it up for sale straight away.
I heard the voice again. It’s all in my head, of course, I told myself. Come on, Hattie! You’re on top of this. You’re on top of this.
The voice became harder to make out as the wind picked up outside, rustling the ivy leaves.
My bedroom was lovingly decorated in pink upholstery and curtains. My old dolls looked at me with wide, eager eyes, thrilled to see me back after so long. I didn’t remember them, but I felt like I knew them. I picked one, my favorite, I’d say, as she was sleeping on my pillow. She looked like me, golden curls hanging from her little head. As I lifted her up she said, “Hug me, mommy!” Incredibly, the batteries still worked after all that time.
A picture on the wall grabbed my attention, so I put the doll down. “I love you mommy!” she said on coming into contact with the thick blanket.
The girl in the framed photo, not larger than the doll I’d just held, must’ve been me. Next to me is a boy half my size, a tiny black tot, helping himself upright holding on tightly to my leg. I took the photo down. On the back, a handwritten post-it said: “Enoch with his proud Sister. Let’s accept this miracle, Gertrude. No matter what people say. Rev. Lester.”
I heard it again, “Come to me!” But it was from outside.
The wind blew harder now, and the branches of ivy pounded the window panes, as if they were knocking to be allowed in.
And then the voice again. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t ignore me.
I opened the window, to figure out what it was. Was there someone in the back garden?
The wind threw the ivy inside the window and into my face. The branches twirled around me. Before I knew it, twigs spread over my upper body and slid down my left sleeve. The ivy attached to my skin, taking root in my flesh. Strangely, I didn’t feel I should resist.
Holding onto the window frame, my eyes instinctively followed the main trunk of the ivy all the way down into the garden soil two floors below. That’s all I remember. Next I know I’m in this hospital bed.
Oh wait! I remember seeing a shovel right by where the ivy grew out. Is that where dad buried her after he found out?
There was a potential ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ moment here: “He tells the nurse that I need rest, and leaves.” What? Ivy leaves? 😉
Enjoyed the story, thanks.
Where you been, buddy? Missed you. Tell you what. The time off must have done you some good, because I really, really liked this story. And, your writing didn’t seem that rushed, although I know you did it in a hurry, and you did more than the obligatory 1200 words and then had to cut back – as you always do – but, hurrah. It doesn’t show. Good job. Phil has covered the things I would have mentioned. And there are some tense moments in the story that could be fixed. Ha Ha, referring to mixed tenses in some paragraphs. The other tense moments are pretty good. Like the blood in the ivy foretelling Mom may just be the ivy, herself. Although Gertrude seems to be such an incongruous name for the Mom, although I cannot tell you why. Maybe Audrey would have been better (Little Shop of Horrors) but then, that wouldn’t be very subtle, would it?
All in all good story, lad and glad to see you back.
Please cast your vote here:
Sorry that I did not make comments on all these great stories. Had a challenging week and I am now away in a holiday tent with no WiFi.
It is a real eye strain to do it all on my phone.
Good luck everyone,
Just waiting on a few votes and I’ll have the totals soon!
Hey all – so sorry for the delay!!
Without further ado here are your winners!
1st place: Stained Glass by Ken Frape
2nd place: I’ll Never Tell by Roy York
3rd place: Karma by Ilana Leeds
4th place: Mom by Ken Miles
5th place: A Room in the Armoire by John David Duke Jr
6th place: Carslake by Phil Town
7th place: The Shadow of the Beast by Vicki Chvatal
8th place: The Weave of True Love by Marien Oommen
Favorite character was Nana from Phil’s “Carslake”
And the story with the favorite dialogue was “I’ll Never Tell”
Congrats to all!
Thank you so much for your kind comments and your vote and congrats to Roy and Ilana and Phil too.
I have just returned from a short break in a tree house beside the river Wye at Hay on Wye. Wasn’t sure if we should go as my Mum died on Sunday evening. She was in a care home and she was 98 so it was sad but it was her time to go, quickly and without a long period of illness.Couldn’t get to see her in time and now have wait for an undefined period due to Covid restrictions etc.
Thank you so much for your kind words. On the day before Mum died I was going to visit her in the hospital but the nurse said she was responding to treatment and had already had visitors so I delayed by one day and she was gone.
98 is a wonderfully long life though and my two brothers and I are thankful for that.
May God’s comforting presence be with you all.
However old they get, parting is still sweet sorrow.
I have a friend looking after her 99 year old Dad at home. She’s a lovely person, but lately her dad has become more and more frail and I fear the inevitable will happen soon. You want them to be forever and in a sense they are. Forever in our hearts and minds – our parents make us who we are in a great part….
Blessings and peace – you should find comfort and healing in memory of the good times.
Seems a bit incongruent to congratulate you and offer condolences in the same paragraph, but your story deserved the win. I’m surprised my story had the legs it did.
98 years and a good life is a wonderful legacy. We should all be so lucky. Our condolences to you and your family. Remember the good times, which I am sure, based on what I know of you, were plentiful.
Thanks for your kind words. They are much appreciated. Wonder what my Mum would have made of my story? She was always a little in awe of people in uniforms and that included vicars and priests. She was born to Scottish parents in Argentina and there was a strong religious flavour in the house.
She saw a lot of changes in her life.
Hope you are well,
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