Here’s my first short story of the year. This one came from a vivid dream during our power outage a few weeks ago. Although it wasn’t from a word and then chosen image like my past challenges, the dream gave me lots of pictures to work from about an old man, a cage of dead fish, and a pier. So, in that way, it offered me a new dream challenge.
I’m not sure if this story is done with me yet. We will see.
I’ve been adding my short stories posted here into my upcoming short story collection that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. Not sure if they will all make the cut or not.
A MAN ON THE PIER
On a wooden pier that ended over the ocean, a man carried a thin, long cage full of dead fish. The familiar tall and lean person was dressed in brown cloth pants and a blue shirt with brass buttons. His stringy gray hair was tied back with a slice of tanned leather, and his brown boots were scuffed and worn. The man known as Captain Randall set his contraption across from where I sat on the newly painted white bench.
Maybe nothing would have happened that day if it hadn’t been for someone out jogging.
The jogger in gray sweats and a shiny blue fitted shirt skidded to a stop in front of Captain Randall. Before I could warn him, he spoke, “Hi, I’m Bob. New to the area. What’s that for?”
Captain Randall smiled, exposing a mouthful of rotten teeth as he skillfully sliced open the rotting fish. “Come see. Follow me.” He gripped the cage and jumped into the icy waters.
I leaped up to stop him, but Bob followed Captain Randall into the water with no hesitation.
“Hey! What are you doing?” Bob called out as he swam faster.
I froze at the edge of safety and watched both men swim away from the pier. My heart raced like I was doing laps at the high school pool. That was where I spent most of my free time on the swim team and had been the team captain in my senior year. Right now I didn’t want to cross the finish line but longed to be in that water, too. It took every ounce of my willpower not to jump in.
Then the long cage opened, and all the dead fish floated to the top of the water with their blood seeping out of them. Captain Randall calmly swam back to the pier.
Bob looked around with his mouth hanging open. I knew what was about to happen. I’d seen it all before in my dream and heard the stories told around campfires. There was nothing I could do.
Captain Randall spun around when he got to the pier at the same moment realization flowed over Bob’s face. Black fins appeared on both sides of Bob.
“Help me!” Bob’s hands waved frantically in the air.
Captain Randall calmly climbed out of the ocean. There was no helping Bob as he disappeared under the blood-red sea in one giant tug.
Captain Randall nodded to me. “Guess they are biting today.”
I gulped down any response. I didn’t want to end up in the ocean too.
With a slight smile, he walked off humming a tune that I swear was from that shark movie. I watched the water become inflamed with death.
My dream came back to me. “Never, never speak to him. He’s cursed, Sasha.” A beautiful woman with long black hair and a fish’s body for legs had warned me. “Stay out of the water, no matter what you see. Then I will come to you when there is a victim.”
Too bad no one told Bob that the ghost of Captain Randall fed the sharks every day at the same time. If you were foolish enough to speak to him, and he answered you—your fate was sealed. The frenzy only continued for a few minutes.
I wasn’t really surprised when the mermaid from my dream swam up to the pier when the waters cleared to their crystal blue beauty.
“That’s the evil we battle, Sasha. It didn’t recognize you. I am pleased. Now go back to your land home until you are needed.”
“You battle evil? Why would it recognize me?” I dropped my pink glitter backpack that landed on the dry wood with a hollow thunk.
“When it is time, I will come for you. Go back.” Then she disappeared.
That was three years ago. I moved to the city, and never returned to that pier or the ocean. Thankfully, there had been no more dreams. The only water I ever got into was full of chlorine. But that all changed last night when that dream returned, calling me to the sea. Foolishly, I went to do my morning laps in the pool at my apartment building. It was early, and the pool was usually empty, so I set my white towel down on a blue lounge. I stood on the edge, ready to dive when I saw the mermaid there. She waved, and I ran.
No one can make me go back to the sea again. I just won’t. Even when I ran past Captain Randall carrying his fish in the middle of my apartment lobby. I convinced myself it had nothing to do with me. I threw clothes into my new green suitcase and left the shabbily furnished studio apartment and server job behind.
A year later, I’m still running, but my dreams beckon me every night to come back. I won’t be fooled or tricked into those waters. Nope, not me. I learned you can only trust yourself growing up in the foster care system, and that included mermaids. With no place to go, I moved to the desert. The dreams might come, but let those water people try to find me there. Just let them.
NOTE: This month got away from me for many reasons. My Monthly Newsletter will go out later tonight or tomorrow.
I was wondering if I’d get a chance to write a holiday short story this year. A few weeks ago I woke up after dreaming this story and immediately wrote it down before I forgot it. So, here it is at 2100 words.
Twelve-year-old Billy had started the day full of hope. He took the number three bus to downtown Laceyville. Barely a dot on a map, but it was where you went if you needed something. Mom was doing her last shift at the small diner down the road. Little Joey stayed with old Mrs. Trumbolt, who always had a never-ending sugar cookie and milk supply. On special occasions, she’d add some chocolate chips to the cookies.
Billy sat in the middle of the bus that only had two other passengers. Everyone minded their own business, so he enjoyed the holiday decorations out the scratched-up window. Almost every house had a tree in the front window covered in silver tinsel and colored lights. The bus jolted to a stop right in front of Harvey’s Department Store. Billy tightly clutched his old dingy sock full of change and dollar bills and followed the sour older man, who smelt of horse manure and sour milk, to the side door of the bus. The round-faced man eyed him like Billy was going to knock him down or push the man out of his way.
The glowing store covered in red and green holiday decorations was full of last-minute shoppers. His mom had brought him and his little brother here to take in the holiday cheer and visit Santa a few weeks ago. He knew Santa was just hired help in a red suit, but Joey still believed in all that magic. Billy wisely asked for new clothes and would be lucky to get that, but Joey requested a new red bike.
His mom’s eyes had filled with tears that she quickly wiped away after looking at the bike’s price tag. He knew twenty-five dollars was more than she could afford. She didn’t make that much working at the old diner, where tips were meager. At least they’d get some chocolate candies in their stocking and a warm thrift store coat.
Billy held in his sock the earnings from mowing lawns, cleaning garages, and yards over the last few months. His mom always encouraged him to take the money and open a savings account but he had been halfway to getting the stingray bike all his friends had. Not that it mattered now because Billy was the man of the house after his father died 11 months ago. He would use this money to get his little brother what he asked from Santa for Christmas and have enough left over to get Mom something nice just like his dad used to do. He could always earn enough to get what he wanted by next summer and then open that account.
Billy dodged a large woman whose arms were filled with toy trucks and dolls. Lucky kids. He headed to where the bikes were, but the red one was gone, and in its place was a blue model that was ten dollars more dollars than he had.
“Look out, kid.” The lady pushed by him. “I’ll take that bike too,” she told the smiling saleswoman, who was dressed as Mrs. Claus.
“You are very lucky! That’s our last bike.”
Billy stood in line and inquired about the display bike.
Mrs. Claus patted his head. “That has a dent on it, son. We need to fix it in Santa’s workshop before it can be sold.”
Billy shook his head. “A dent is okay. I have twenty-five dollars for it.”
The woman reached around him and grabbed a scarf from a lady holding a screaming baby. “Sorry, that’s against store policy. It would make the store look bad to sell damaged inventory. Buy something else, I have customers to wait on.”
Billy sighed loudly. Joey would be so disappointed. Still, he was determined to add a few gifts under the decorated fig tree. A turquoise scarf and gloves set that had a peacock feather design was perfect for his mom, along with pink slippers, and a cheesy romance novel. He found a firetruck, football, and new Christmas PJs and slippers for his brother. The family always used to wear matching PJs on Christmas Eve way back when life was normal, and cancer didn’t take away all its joy.
Holding his purchases, he added a package of sweet tarts. That left him with just enough change to ride the bus home. When he stepped on the number three bus, he found the change gone and a hole in his pocket.
“No money, no ride.” The man with red hair had not been gifted with the Christmas spirit.
Billy bowed his head and retreated in embarrassment from the bus where no goodwill existed.
He retraced his path to the locked store door. A young man with braces and a red Santa Hat took the dented bike out of the window display while ignoring Billy’s frantic pounding on the glass entry.
With a loud sigh, Billy stomped away. “Guess I’m walking home.”
He took the shortcut that passed the back of the store. The person who had disregarded him brought the bike out the back door. The employee tugged on the knob of the door that said do not enter.
“Great, it’s locked!” The employee dropped the bike on the ground and stomped back into the store.
The dim lights illuminated the red bike like it was on display. Billy pushed his bags full of gifts on his shoulders and did something he’d never done before. He stole the bike.
He was almost out of the dark lot when he heard. “Stop, thief!”
Billy’s stomach felt heavy, but he thought of his brother’s face on Christmas morning. His long legs kept pedaling on the small bike. Although he was a criminal now, he tried a deal he thought God might accept. “Please forgive me. If you let me keep it for Joey, I’ll promise to pay the store back more than they were charging.”
Turning onto the main road, he weaved in and out of traffic. The icy wind pounded his face, and the thin coat offered no protection from the approaching winter storm. He almost had himself convinced what he had done was okay until guilt crashed down on him.
“Sorry, Joey. This isn’t right.”
Billy spun the bike around in the intersection, right as a bus barreled around the corner with its horn blaring. Directly before everything went black, he saw a beautiful angel with long ebony hair and green wings standing over him.
That was the last thing he remembered until he smelt garlic and bread. He carefully opened his eyes, expecting to see that angel again, but instead, there was a kind-faced man at his side.
Billy blurted out his story while the man gently shook his head and rubbed his chin but withheld comment.
Billy finished with. “I’ve got to get the bike back to them, Sir. It doesn’t belong to me.”
The man smiled. “That bike is a bit dinged up now, but it’s yours.”
Billy wondered if he was dreaming. “It’s what?”
“My friend, Officer Doyle told me you took it. I figured you had your reasons, so I offered to pay for it. The store manager gladly accepted. Although, you aren’t allowed in the store anymore unless an adult accompanies you.” His smile was as gentle as his eyes.
Billy’s eyes widened. “Why would you do that, mister?”
The man, who had to be as old as his mom, patted his arm softly. “Everyone deserves a second chance, and a young man like yourself should be with his family on Christmas Eve, not in jail. And please call me Mr. Jones.”
“My name is Billy, Mr. Jones. But I spent all my money on these presents that are probably ruined.” Billy pointed to the two bags on the table next to the red bench he was lying on.
Mr. Jones had crinkles around his eyes just like his dad had when he grinned. “Your gifts are fine, not even a scratch on the firetruck.
Billy held back tears. “How can I pay you back?”
“Well, Billy. I could use help around here on Saturdays and maybe sometimes after school. You could work off your bike. If everything goes well, I’ll hire you permanently.”
“Really! Gee, that would be great!” Billy sat up and winced as his head throbbed more. He was sore, but everything else worked on him.
Mr. Jones pointed to his head. “That bump on your head is going to hurt you for a while, but the doctor said you’d be just fine.”
Billy looked around. “A doctor was here?”
“Yes, picking up a pizza to take home. Very lucky he was here, so you don’t have to go to the hospital.”
“Very lucky. Thank you.”
“You are very welcome. Now get up slowly and gather your things. I’ll take you and that bike home.”
Billy stood up on a sticky red tile floor. “You don’t have to do more, Mr. Jones. I can ride my bike home, and you can be with your family.”
A sad look crossed over the man’s face. “I lost my wife last year in a car accident. We were never blessed with kids, so it would be a favor to me if you allowed me this holiday cheer of being able to return you to your family.”
“Sorry, Mr. Jones. My dad died too.” Billy inspected the man. He wasn’t horrible looking and a widower, too, maybe…
They pulled in front of his house, where his mom was talking to a police officer.
Billy stepped out of the truck with a loud gulp. “You should meet my mom, Mr. Jones. I know she’d like to thank you for all your help.”
“Billy!” His mom engulfed Billy in a tight hug. “Are you okay? What were you thinking? You are grounded for two weeks….” She stopped when Mr. Jones walked up next to them. “Officer Doyle told me what you did for him, Mr.….”
“Jones, but call me Mike. It was my pleasure to help.” His new friend’s brown eyes twinkled, and Mom’s cheeks took on an odd shade of pink.
“My name is Maria. Nice to meet you, Mike.” She held out her hand, which Mr. Jones engulfed in his large hands. The handshake seemed to go on for a while.
“Nice to meet you, Maria. You raised him well. He was going to make things right after doing something so stupid. With your permission, he’s agreed to help at my restaurant to pay off his debt. Although the road wasn’t as kind, the bus missed him. He was a very lucky young man.”
“We were very lucky tonight, thank you. And of course, you have my permission. I just made a fresh pot of coffee. Would you like a cup?” Mom smoothed her wavy dark brown shoulder-length hair and smiled.
Mr. Jones finally let go of his mom’s hand as Officer Doyle walked by and waved. “Don’t do that again, young man. You won’t get so lucky next time with Mr. Jones being around to help you. Merry Christmas.”
“I won’t, Sir. Merry Christmas.” Billy confirmed.
Officer Doyle shook his head and winked at Mr. Jones before getting into his car.
“Good advice, Billy. I don’t want to impose on your family celebration, Maria. Maybe another…”
Billy interrupted him before he could decline, much to his mom’s obvious horror. “Mr. Jones will be alone tonight. Can’t we invite him to our Christmas Eve dinner?”
His mom’s face relaxed. “It would be an honor if you joined us. Our way of paying back your kindness.”
Joey raced out of Mrs. Trumbold’s house and threw himself into Billy’s aching arms. Mr. Jones retrieved the blanket-wrapped bike and followed Mom into the garage.
That dent and scratches went unnoticed Christmas morning, and the day turned out to be a good Christmas even though Dad was missed. Mr. Jones stayed for dinner and many more dinners after that.
Money worries were a thing of the past when Mom took over the paperwork in Mr. Jones’s busy restaurant. It took them a few years, but Mr. Jones became a part of the family.
Mom cut back from working full-time to part-time after she announced she was expecting a baby who was due on Christmas Day. The baby arrived on the night when miracles happened, Christmas Eve. Billy knew no one would believe him, but there was the same beautiful angel standing next to his baby sister’s crib that he’d seen the night the bus narrowly missed him. The angel smiled and waved at him, then disappeared.
NOTE: There will be no blog on December 5th, I’ll be on vacation. I’ll be quiet that week on social media and visiting blogs, although I might post a picture or two on Instagram. I’ll be back on December 12th with book reviews.
Embrace your inner child by reading a good book! D. L. Finn
Amazing fellow Story Empire Author and wonderful human being, Staci Troilo, just released a new romantic novella, “No Such Luck.” She’s making the rounds on her release tour so don’t miss out on that! I know I’ll be following along 🙂
Today, I decided to give “No Such Luck” its own special review day in honor of its release. You will see this review again in December on my regular book review post too!
Seeds of luck usually wither. The rare one grows and blooms.
Piper Seidel has one thing going for her—a red carnation given to her by Tommy Burnett in the tenth grade. It might have dried over the years, but it’s still her good luck charm. Losing it sets her life in a downward spiral, forcing her to return to her hometown where she comes face to face with her high school crush.
The years have been kind to Tommy, who looks better than ever. Unfortunately, Piper is at her worst, continually embarrassing herself whenever he’s around. The only plus? Her long-time friend, Jack Rhodes, still lives in town. Since she last saw him, his legs have grown longer, his biceps thicker, and his shoulders broader. He was always the brother she never had, but now she can’t help noticing him in an unsisterly way. Jack is every bit as caring as he’s ever been—until her bad luck drives him away, maybe forever.
Piper needs a new good luck charm, and fast, before she loses her final chance at happiness.
When things get bad for Piper, she heads home. It’s here she runs into not only her best friend from high school, Jack but her crush, Tommy. Piper is a character who is likable even in her not-so-stellar moments. She maneuvers through what is real and the musings of a teenage girl. This is a quick read that I devoured in one sitting to see if she got her happily ever after. “No Such Luck” is a sweet novella that emphasizes what and who is important. A fantastic beginning to the new Keystone Couples Series that I can easily recommend.
Happy Halloween. Today I’m doing my Personal Short Story Writing Challenge. The word was provided by my son, effervescent.
Here is the image that came up for it and the story that follows.
The round man in the white lab coat dropped the blue pill into the glass beaker. It immediately burst in a rush of bubbles racing to the top of the water. The man dabbed the sweat off his forehead and offered a tentative smile. “It works as soon as it hits the liquid, Sir.”
A deep scowl crossed over the taller man’s thin face. “I can see that, Arnold, and I prefer Sir Charles. Will it do what I want it to?”
Arnold gulped loudly as the water turned a bloody red and boiled with no heat source. Its froth spilled over the beaker like a volcano exploding. “Yes, Sir Charles. The test is going exactly as planned. We will test it in its chocolate form tomorrow. Its reaction will happen in the mouth and stomach, but we are fully confident that will be a success.”
Sir Charles’ thick black eyebrows hovered heavily over the bloodshot eyes that held the definition of madness. “Good, good. I need it to be perfect for Halloween. You understand?”
“Of course, Sir Charles. If the chocolate performs well tomorrow, then there are only a few more tests left.”
“On the rats, I assume?” His black-clothed body sunk into the shadows, but the high ceiling clinical lighting shone directly on his displeased face.
Arnold tugged at his itchy white collar. “Well, we haven’t tried it on a human yet, because of the….”
Sir Charles slammed his fist on the white Formica counter, almost tipping over the roaring concoction. “That’s what this potion it’s meant for. I can’t believe I have to think of everything. You will be brought some healthy young specimens from the holding area.”
Arnold covered his mouth as bile forced its way up. He pushed it back down, along with his anger. “It might kill the children if the formula isn’t right.”
“Then kill them but get it right.” The words were spoken with no emotion.
Arnold gulped, wiped away more sweat, but didn’t respond.
“Arnold, have you found something to alter your mind?” Sir Charles paused.
Arnold quickly shook his head vigorously in denial. He knew the rules. No drinking or taking mind-numbing relief. It would not only take him off the project but cost him and his partner their lives. “No, Sir Charles.”
Sir Charles seemed satisfied, and he continued. “Why do you think I bought a major candy company and spent a small fortune on this lab?”
“For us to do experiments.” Arnold looked at his colleagues for support, but they were in the same position as him—forced help.
Sir Charles put his hands on his hips. “Right, and you are being allowed to continue your pathetic existence. And what do I want these chocolates for?”
Arnold felt like a kid in grammar school answering the demanding teacher. “Halloween.”
The man sighed loudly. “Sometimes, I think you were dropped on your head as a baby. Humans, yourself included, have always ruined my best ideas. The zombies that come from your experiment will keep the world busy, then I slip in and take control over everything, understand?”
“Yes, Sir Charles, but no one has stopped you from doing what you want for centuries.” The words escaped before he could stop them. Arnold heard a gasp come from behind him.
Sir Charles folded his lanky arms and bent down to be eye level with Arnold. His breath reminded him of a slaughterhouse, which he was. “They stopped my dear mother when they hammered a stake into her heart. I’ll never forget her screams or my rage. It’s been simmering inside since that day. Luckily, after I was exiled into the forest, the real monster took pity on me and gave me immortally— like I might do for you if you please me.”
Arnold held his hands up and briefly dipped his head. “I’m sorry, Sir Charles. I meant no disrespect. I only meant you are so powerful already. Everyone fears you.”
Sir Charles patted Arnold on the head, stood straight, and adjusted his black hat. “It took decades to gain that respect in my community. When it was time, I took revenge on that entire town that punished an innocent woman. That’s never been enough, though. No Arnold, not at all. Humans haven’t changed over the centuries. They still live and act in fear, so I waited and watched. Now your kind has the technology to give me what I’ve been imagining or an effervescent potion that makes humans into a compliant sleepwalkers or zombie-like. Whoever doesn’t eat the chocolate, my creatures will take care of them.”
“Aren’t you killing your food supply?” From being underground for the last few years, Arnold’s pale complexion took on a shade of green as it reflected off the camera mirror that watched every move they made.
“My creatures will never deny their blood to me, but I admit I like the chase, so leaving some to hunt will be nice. No one can challenge me, though, got that?”
“Yes, Sir Charles.”
A smirk filled the sharpness of his youthful face. “Great. Now, I’ll bring you your test subjects.”
Arnold nodded and turned back to his work. He’d had his own formula ready for a long time, and even boldly shared it here today in place of what it was supposed to be. This liquid changed the cells in all the studies and the last one the rats had survived. He offered his lab partner a weak smile, but Patty turned her tear-stained face away from him and the all-seeing mirror. At least she had her husband and three children to share her nights in their private cell. He had the same privilege with his partner and cat, most were crammed together in small spaces and usually not with family members.
The image of all the tears shed because of this monster made Arnold push aside his years of training and make a rare rash decision. “I’m done with this. I know our formula will work.”
Patty froze as realization crossed her face. “That could fry your brain or worse! Think of David!”
Arnold brought the bubbling concoction to his lips and felt a power he hadn’t felt since he was tricked into this nightmare. He smiled.“It won’t, Patty.”
He didn’t listen as he dipped his finger and stirred the potion. The liquid had cooled, and the bubbles had returned. Patty gasped loudly as he gulped it down. Finished he tossed the beaker into the trashcan and burped loudly as the bubbles danced in his stomach.
Patty and the others backed away from him right as Sir Charles entered the lab tugging two terrified little boys behind him. “You poor pathetic fool. Well, you will be the lab rat now, Arnold.”
Arnold’s blood rushed the potion to all parts of his body. He knew what came next and steeled himself for it. As he collapsed onto the ground, withering like a thirsty flower under a hot summer sun, everything went black, but only for a second, then the light seemed to come from his pores. He jumped up and grinned.
“It appears your junk doesn’t work, Arnold. Either you get it right within 24 hours, or you, David, and that horrible cat die. Put these things in a cage, so they don’t run away and cause a mess.” He pushed the crying children toward Patty.
Arnold felt a new strength and power like that of a cartoon superhero. It took three years to create, but he was a perfect monster-killer. Arnold and Patty had secretly stimulated the part of the brain that was untapped by humanity so far. He stepped in front of Sir Charles with a huge grin while Patty comforted the little boys.
“Don’t come any closer, Arnold. I’m only going to warn you once.” Sir Charles’s bravado seemed a little deflated as Arnold reached out to the pale bloodsucker and pushed him.
Before Sir Charles could respond, Arnold broke their tormentor’s neck and then easily ripped his head off which he carelessly tossed aside. As the bloodless head rolled away, Arnold swore it asked why. No matter what they had been told over the last three years in captivity, he learned all he needed from that vile creature’s final thoughts. Everything had been a lie, including rewarding them with eternal life. They were less than a herd of cows to him and his death by them was a huge shame to that creature.
The images Arnold saw from the monster were so clear. He’d seen a woman burning in bright orange flames. That had to be Sir Charles’s mother. There were many terrified faces as they took their last breath all jumbled together, but the last lucid thought was a picture of flames that consumed everything. Arnold shook his head that had to be from when he took down an entire village in his revenge for his mother. That young man had become what the villager’s first claimed his mother was—a deranged monster.
Following a round of congratulations and releasing all the people, Arnold led the way to freedom. He ripped open the steel door to release the group of 231 people from their confinement. They slowly made their way through the tunnel to the surface. Here, the door opened easily, into a nightmare. The landscape was charred and bare. There was nothing for miles. His newly gained powers reached out and found nothing alive, except for what survived in the ocean.
What had been their prison with a crazy vampire had saved them from themselves. Humanity had finally crossed the line and started a war that killed everyone but them and the animals still below that were used for experiments or food. It wasn’t getting revenge for his mother’s death that had been Sir Charles’ last thought, but the demise of the world. The vampire wanted control of those he already held hostage to create the world in his distorted image.
Tears flowed as he held David, and the ground released its sulfuric effervescent reminder of what fear and hate can produce. This small group had become the survivors of the new Noah’s Ark. It would be up to them to start over. Arnold hoped this time they would do it right.
I will be participating in the NaNoWriMo this year. I will not be writing a story but editing the first book I wrote during this event. So, I will still do my regular posts, but won’t be around as much as usual. To those who are doing it, good luck! Happy November 🙂
Embrace your inner child by reading a good book! D. L. Finn
Here is my Short Story Word Challenge #4. This word was provided by my eldest daughter, faith. This image came up for the word, and then the story followed.
Nessie stood on the mountaintop. Her arms extended in gratitude to where she believed heaven existed. Only her faith brought her to this moment. If she hadn’t believed in the possibility of survival, she would still be tied up in that dark, musky room at the mercy of a madman. Nessie shuddered, thinking of those dire moments in her young life.
“I’m free!” Nessie shouted and twirled around, offering up her thankfulness.
Her voice echoed through the rocky canyons. There would be no response to her glee, as this was a journey she made alone. It was her time to shine and celebrate her strength.
Nessie settled down and meditated on the beauty. She bowed her head in thanks when she was done. Opening her backpack, she removed the turkey and avocado sandwich.
“Thanks, Mom. This is the best sandwich yet!” She smacked her lips together loudly.
Soon her meal concluded, and the pack became a backrest to watch the sun push the day away with its brilliant purple, pink, and red finale.
“Goodnight, sun, tomorrow you will rise again as I did.” Nessie shook her head and stood up. “Everyone thought I was crazy to come up here by myself, where it all happened. They don’t understand. I promised I would see the sunrise over this mountain if I survived. I prayed on that, and here I am honoring those words.”
Nessie unwound her sleeping bag in a spot that looked like it was made to sleep on. As the air chilled and the stars came out, she yanked on her coat and hat. Stargazing was her favorite thing to do as a child. Here she felt a part of the universe on the cliff where the man killed her fiancé, Steve, and held her hostage. The place where she had declared she would get married someday. It’s always been her favorite spot.
“No, that man didn’t ruin this beauty for me. He couldn’t.”
What that man didn’t know was this place was magical, and Steve hadn’t believed in it as she did. The push from the cliff had snapped Steve’s neck, but didn’t end his journey. His spirit stuck around long enough to help her after that insane man beat and locked her up. She knew Steve would come to her in that darkness. He’s held and comforted her. If not for Steve, she never would have seen the dropped key in the darkness.
“Thank you, Steve.”
The rest was her, though. Once she got out of her prison, she had to get past her tormentor.
Every step had pained her. That man had painfully amused himself with every part of her, but nothing had been broken, so she had done what she needed.
“I’m so grateful everyone thinks I got hurt trying to get to Steve. It’s for the best, though, especially for my dear parents. They will never have to suffer or know what I endured. Plus, I made sure it would never happen again.”
Nessie smiled and closed her eyes in the sleep of peace. She slept soundly until her phone alarm woke her up. Then she quietly ate her granola bar and drank water as the sun rose from the horizon. The sun’s beams weaved into the chilled mountain air and offered her the beautiful rays of light that painted a new day. She took picture after picture to remember this glorious moment. The battery was almost dead, so she shut her phone off.
After her morning duties, she packed up and offered a final bow to the beautiful landscape. Standing on the edge of her new life, she released Steve’s ashes over the precipice.
Then she headed back down the hill. When she entered the darkness of the tree canopy, she found the hidden path to a small log cabin. It was so off the beaten path no one even realized it was here, except her.
“Hi honey, I’m home.” She called out, smiling.
The place was cold. So, she warmed up the red plaid décor, with deer heads mounted on the walls, with a nice roaring fire.
She gathered food, a blanket, and opened the trap door under the bear rug by the hearth. Clicking on the flashlight that she tucked under her arm in her free hand where she grasped Steve’s unused handgun.
She shone the narrow beam of light on a man huddled in the corner between the toilet and sink. He was crying.
In a whiny voice, he held his hands together in prayer form. “Please help me. I’m dying.”
His act didn’t move her. “Not yet. Here are some supplies. Make them last a while. It’s hard to say when or if I can get back here again with the snow coming.”
He put his bearded face into his grimy hands. “I’m sorry I hurt you and your friend. I promise I’ll never do it again.”
Nessie smiled. “Oh, I know you won’t because you aren’t leaving this room.”
He looked up. His watery blue eyes still held that hardness she had seen when he hurt her. “I’ve never done that before. I was just drunk.”
She set the basket down out of his reach. “Good try, Larry. I found the graveyard out back and holes for Steve and me. We weren’t your first.”
“Please, just turn me in.” He eyed the basket, and a bit of drool ran down his chin.
She shone the light on his goodies. “I think this fits the crimes. Plus, it gives you some time to think about what you did. Maybe you’ll ask for that forgiveness you so desperately need. I’m doing you a favor in the long run.”
“You’re crazy.” His voice took on a hardness that indicated he didn’t want redemption.
Nessie sighed loudly and kicked the basket within his reach. “Maybe I am now, thanks to you. The love of my life that you took from me had brought me to this mountain to ask me to marry him. I have the ring right here next to my heart to remind me of my love and faith. It saved me. What will save you?”
“Please. You aren’t like me.” The chains rattled, but he had made no progress trying to pull them from the wall. She knew how well he’d installed them.
“No, I am not. I am doing good for this world right now. You’d better make your peace for all your sins.”
Nessie shut the trapdoor and locked it. Relief overwhelmed her as she sank into a dusty red chair. That night two weeks ago, she unlocked those chains with a dropped key. She prepared herself to fight him but had found the house empty, except for a tranquilizer gun the smug man left lying around. Still, she didn’t run. She waited for him to return. Unfortunately, he tried to fight her, so she shot him. After she dragged the sedated body to his prison, she used the same chains that had been on her and left him where he’d put so many before. She put a box of granola bars, raisins, and nuts by his unconscious body in that dark hole.
Her pain had been forgotten as she searched the house and surroundings. There were so many graves marked with numbers. Two empty holes that must have been meant for her and Steve. They would have been numbers 16 and 17. That’s when Steve appeared to her for the last time.
“I will always love you, Nessie. Would you do one more thing for me?” She nodded, so he continued. “Make sure he gets what he deserves, sweetheart.”
“I promise. I love you too and will miss you.”
Then he waved and faded away without another word. She had made the painful trek back down the mountain and decided not to tell anyone what really happened to her and Steve. Someday she’d alert the authorities anonymously so that those other families could find some closure, but she needed to find hers.
This time she was so much stronger inside this cabin and knew she needed to get rid of any evidence she’d been here. There were some gloves in his cleaning supplies and she scrubbed the cabin to her satisfaction. She removed her gloves and tucked them into her pocket.
“Good luck Larry. If you are meant to live, you will. If not, you have some things to pay for.”
She hoped he would be thankful for her kindness in leaving him supplies, but she doubted it. Someone like him wouldn’t recognize empathy because he never showed it to her with that belt. Then came the trip down the mountain again, leaving her greatest love and fear behind, but filled with the faith of the life she had yet to live.
NOTE: We are getting some much needed rain. Unfortunately, it’s coming all at once, but we are safe where we are. The storm is living up to its hype. Lots of power outages and only a matter of time for us. I will be responding when I can. Xo
This week I decided to do something different and challenge myself. So, I searched pictures on Canva using the word scary. This image intrigued me. Then, I wrote a short story to go along with it. My goal was to keep it under 1000 words. I only went over by a couple of words 🙂
When I first wrote this, I didn’t like it and wasn’t going to use it. The next day I went back and started reworking it and got this version.
Bella snapped the picture right before the boy disappeared. Although she’d been the only one to see him, now there was proof.
For the last two weeks, she’d seen the boy in the same place, right after the school bus dropped her off by their private road. He wore jeans, a grey hoody, carried a black backpack, and never looked back or spoke. Then he would vanish into a heavy mist of fog.
She couldn’t wait to show her mother the photo.
Mother was sitting on the porch in the old wooden rocking chair, sipping her iced tea. The hair went up on Bella’s arms when Mother’s bloodshot eyes fixed on her. “Why do you have my camera?” Her words slurred together like they were in a wind tunnel, but the leaves on the trees were still.
“I borrowed it to get a picture of the boy. I got it. Look, Mother!” She held the camera up, hoping she was wrong about Mother’s condition. The last three years had been peaceful ones since Mother remained sober and took her meds.
Mother slammed the drink down hard, shattering the glass. “Liar! There’s no boy out there, and stop calling me Mother. You know I hate that word.”
Bella sighed when blood dripped from her mother’s hand. That scary woman had returned. “Sorry, Stella. You’re hurt. Where’s Dad?” She scanned the area, hoping he had come home early.
“Gone. He got tired of raising another man’s brat. I wish I’d never had you thirteen years ago.” Stella sank into her chair and started weeping. Tears mixed with her blood into a tie-dye swirl of insanity.
“He is my dad, and he wouldn’t leave without me!” Bella’s jaw clenched in a painful spasm that she gingerly rubbed.
Stella’s sorrow turned into a cruel smirk. “I had plenty of boyfriends in my day. I was very popular. When I got pregnant, your love-crazy dad offered to marry me. For a while, I thought I loved him back, but I was wrong. He left both of us. Good riddance, I say. Now, go do your homework or whatever it is you do and leave me alone.”
Bella wrapped her coat tightly around her slim body. The red trees brought the colder days and the hope of the holidays. There was none of that at this moment as she tucked the camera into her backpack while Stella stumbled into the house.
The last time Stella was here, she tried to run over Bella in their driveway. Dad had given her an ultimatum; get help, or they were leaving. After a year of full-time treatment, Stella was gone, and Mother came home. Although Mother lacked warmth, things had been okay until now.
The high-pitched vibration of more breaking glass came from inside the old gray house, which hurt Bella’s soul. She turned away from the place where second chances had seemed possible and walked back down the tree-lined driveway.
When she got to the road, the boy was there again. Instead of going to town, she raced toward him. There was an overpowering, musky smell, like the cologne her father wore.
“Please talk to me. My mother is sick and needs help.”
For the first time, he stopped but didn’t turn around. “She killed me, you know.”
“What?” Bella reached out to him, but he stayed out of her grasp.
“Run!” the boy screamed and disappeared.
She heard their van start. Its wheels squealed down the driveway. Bella did what the boy told her—she ran.
“Time to join Daddy!” Stella screamed.
Bella veered off the road, hoping to make it to the forest and away from her crazed mother, when an excruciating pain shot through her body. Then nothing.
When she opened her heavy eyes, her father was kneeling next to her. “You’re safe now, my little Bella. I’m sorry, I wasn’t there to protect you.”
Bella sat up, feeling no pain. “She’s drinking again.”
“I know, and it’s obvious she stopped the meds and therapy. I can’t believe I missed Stella’s return.” He buried his face in his hands.
“It’s okay, Dad.” Bella patted her dad’s arm.
The boy stood behind her father. His hood was down, and he appeared to be about ten years old, with the most beautiful green eyes, messy brown hair, and a huge grin. She smiled and waved. He returned her gesture.
“Can you see the boy, Dad?”
He gathered Bella into his arms and held her like he used to do when she was a child. “Yes. His name is Jake.”
“Jake? You told me to run. Thank you.”
Jake’s smile faded, and a shadow crossed his face. “I failed you.”
“How?” Bella frowned and met her father’s brown eyes. He nodded toward the old cedar tree and flashing red lights. Their van had plowed into the tree, and her mother was being loaded onto a gurney. “Is she alive?”
“Yes. Her body will recover, but I’m not sure about her mind. I’m going to set you down now if that’s okay?”
“Sure, Dad. I feel fine.”
Tears ran down Jake’s face, and he put his hood back up. After a loud sniffle, he said. “Bella deserved to live, not that woman.”
“I…” Bella stopped when her father pointed to the wreck. There was a familiar person between the car and the tree. “I’m dead?”
“Yes, sweetheart. We both are, but I think you’ll like it where we are going. Right, Jake?”
Jake wiped his tears away. “Yes. It looks amazing, but I stayed here hoping to stop her from doing this again. It wasn’t a deer your mom hit two weeks ago, and she buried me over there.” He pointed to a grove of trees next to the accident. “I was running away from one drunk mom and got killed by another. I hope they find my body someday. Even my mom deserves to know what happened.”
Dad grabbed Bella’s hand. “Time for all of us to go.”
Jake scooped up her other hand, and they started walking. Soon, the world they left behind was forgotten as peace and love filled their souls. They entered a golden light where three beautiful angels waited for them. Their journey had just begun.
I will be doing this again next week. My daughter provided the word, bonsai for the picture.
The Newsletter will be coming out at the end of this week. Watch for it if you are subscribed!
Embrace your inner child by reading a good book! D. L. Finn