The Hitchhiker

Write a story about three people who are on a road trip together, only to stop off at a gas station and pick up a fourth person whom they don’t know. Why did they pick this person up? Where are they taking him/her? What happens?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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225 thoughts on “The Hitchhiker

  1. Thomas

    Joe’s eyes were heavy. His mind had been wandering, refashioning old choices that he had made in his mind. For some of the trip he was making better choices and life was brighter, but mostly, an overcast shaded his wanderings. Guilt and regret shaped his consciousness, and he indulged himself in his madness. It was just past one in the morning. He noticed a sign on the road signaling a gas station a mile down the road. He checked the gauge and noticed he needed to fill up and mentally prepared for the stop ahead. He glanced over at the passenger seat to check in on Dave and found him eyes closed, mouth ajar, slowly breathing; he was still soundly sleeping. He glanced at the rearview mirror and noticed Craig was laid back in the reclining bucket seat also sleeping. He decided he better get an energy drink as well. He had been driving for the entire day, but it was his insistence that brought along Dave and Craig, so he would not bother them to drive in the middle of the light.

    Joe’s life had just recently been thrown into free fall. Joe was a student-athlete for a prestigious university and news broke of the scandal that happened months back of drug use within the team and Joe’s role just days ago. His role was massively overblown in the press — he had merely been a small player in the embroilment. He was competing and only really got involved, because of his friends at the time who had heavily coerced them to help him out. However, the whistleblower relayed a different narrative to the press — that Joe was the main mastermind. No proof was ever offered, so nobody on the team was kicked out of school, but nonetheless the head coach was fired. Online forums were running rampant with speculation and opinion. Joe had to start anew elsewhere. He pulled up to the pump, swiped his card, and began filling.

    “Say sir, you wouldn’t happen to be heading north and have an extra seat in the car would you?” a voice from behind asked.

    “No sorry, I’m headed south” Joe replied as he turned around to meet the stranger.

    “Dad” Joe mumbled, shocked.

    Joe looked back at the car and found Dave and Craig awake, watching. Joe turned back to face his dad.

    “Son you are a good man. Sure you had a momentary lapse in judgement. Sure for a few years you surrounded yourself with fools, and through that you became someone lesser than you were. I know your heart is heavy. Your path forward will not be easy. There’s going to be many voices out there telling you to leave, telling you you’re no good, telling you to quit, reminding you everyday of your sins. Every day and every moment you are going to have to be a living, breathing refutation of the critic. But you will do it if you stay. And you know why? Because you are a good man. Every day you just focus on being a better person and you will make it out of this pool of despair and find the happiness that eludes you. Everyone that matters still loves you and supports you. Your redemption lies where your suffering is.”

    At this point Joe was crying. He and his dad embraced.

    “What do ya say son — are you headed north?”

  2. Bailey_92

    “Guys, I’m stopping for gas at the next station I see, do you guys want anything?” Sam asked aloud to no reply as she steadily drove down the winding highway into the black of the night. The silence that filled the air could only mean two things when driving with Robbie and Kendall; either they were both asleep leaving her to soldier this journey out alone, or they were engrossed in an act that often left Sam feeling like the third wheel. It was the latter option this time.

    “Oh come on guys, seriously? Third wheel over here! Cut it out already!” Sam stated in slight annoyance as she glanced over at her two best friends who had decided it was a wise idea to become an item, spoiling the whole dynamic of their friendship.

    Finally pulling away from each other, Robbie and Kendall share one last flirtatious glance before bringing their full attention to Sam.
    “Sorry Sammy, now what were you saying?” Kendall asked whilst wiping the corners of her mouth and straightening up. Trying to focus on the road, Sam yawned before replying.
    “The next gas station is coming up, did you want anything?” She asked whilst keeping her eyes on the road.
    “Yeah, could you get me some Cheetos and a pack of M&M’s?” Robbie answered whilst pulling out a lighter to light the cigarette that was wedged between his lips.
    “I’ll have a bottle of water and a bag of Doritos!” Kendall added as they were approaching the station.
    “Cool, I’ll be right back.” Sam wasted no time climbing out of the truck; she was in need of some fresh air and a break from driving.

    After filling up the tank and entering the store to buy the snacks, Sam suddenly felt weird. She felt as if someone was watching her from a distance. As she looked down the aisle, she noticed another girl standing there, with her hair covering her face, hiding the fact that she was crying.

    You need to help her. A familiar voice said to Sam.

    “Hi, are you ok?” Sam mustered up the courage to approach the girl. Her smile was familiar and Sam felt like she knew her, even though it was obvious she didn’t.
    “Not really…could you help me with something?” The girl’s voice was somewhat daring, which confused but intrigued Sam.
    “Sure” Sam shrugged.

    ****

    “Sorry I took so long guys, this is Kaley; I hope you don’t mind, I said I’d give her a lift because she’s stranded.” Sam said when she got back to the car. Robbie and Kendall looked a little apprehensive.
    “What? Sam you can’t just go around picking people up!” Kendall stated in obvious fear.
    “Wait, where is she?” Robbie asked when he realized he couldn’t see the girl Sam was talking about.

    “She’s right here.” Robbie and Kendall shared a look of fear and confusion.

    “Sam, there’s no one there.”

    “Sure there is, her name is Kaley.”

  3. Moldy

    We picked her up at an Exxon while getting gas.

    “I don’t need your judgement.” She said then resumed a thoughtful gaze out the car window. “Oh, sorry.” I realized I was staring and turned away. My friends Ethan and Andy were accompanying me on a road trip to Lake Tahoe for a couple days when we saw an orange light indicating we needed a refill on gas.
    While filling up, Ethan went in the small shop to get us Kinder Egg Surprises because they’re illegal anywhere else in America. That’s when I saw her and offered a small smile and a wave. Her weary face turned into a warm one quickly as she unexpectedly started walking over. I nudged Andy as a que to get Ethan before this shady girl offered us something more illegal than Kinder Eggs. He understood and made eye contact with Ethan at the register who quickened his pace. As did she.
    Right as the gas nozzle made a small popping noise to signify the tank being filled, she reached us. “Please, gentlemen, please give me a ride.” a hitchhiker. The three of us exchanged suspicious looks. “Where to?” Ethan inquired, “just to see if it’s on our way..” “Anywhere.” she stated simply. “Can you give us a moment?” we stepped aside to deliberate.
    After some time, we decided, no. “Look. You’re probably a nice person and all but-” “Sure, why not?” I piped up. Sorry, guys. “Nate! Wha-” Ethan began “Really? Seriously? Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou!” she cheered and hugged me tightly. “Uh.. no problem” I smiled, looking up at the disapproving guys.
    “So… what’s your name?” Andy tried to break the ice. “Maddie.” she quickly responded, not looking away from the window. “Well, my names Andy and that’s Ethan” Ethan craned his blond head to look at the back seat and smiled, “and there’s Nate” he said in a slight Chilean accent. “Why we’re you at the gas station, Maddie?” I picked up the conversation. She took her eyes off the window to look at me, “So I could meet you” We were all taken aback by her response. “Naturally.” she looked at us, expectedly.
    An hour later, we were tired of silence and not knowing anything about our new friend ‘Maddie’. “Okay. You know what? We’re gonna get to know each other more.” Ethan declared. “Oh! I love team building games!” for the first time in 60 minutes, she looked away from the glass separating the inside of the warm toasty car from the cold and dark outside world. “That’s good! This is good! Keep sharing things about yourself” I rested my cheek on my left palm. “But I want to know about you guys too!” “Good point.” Ethan thought out loud, “Tell you what, at the next motel we’ll stop and get a room for the night. That way, we can get some sleep and get to be better friends all in one.” “Sounds good!” we all agreed.

    Thus, a friendship was born.

  4. The Black Hat

    “This isn’t right.”

    The muttered words came abruptly and quietly from my partner in the front seat. I’d hope he’d given up on his argument an hour ago. Our punishment was inescapable; he deserved it, we all did. We were condemned to ride as horsemen, brothers, collecting souls for a thousand years — a violent penance for our horrid crimes.

    “Shut up!” I growled at him. “We need the fourth!” My patience was near its end. “I’d sooner tear you apart myself than let you attract the master’s attention. I won’t spend the rest of the millennia in the torture chamber.”

    I watched him tap a scar-riddled fingertip on the arm rest. Everything about him annoyed me. He’d been a prolific rapist but he was a coward, spineless. He foolishly believed there was a way out.

    “But there has to be…” he began. I lunged forward and drew a blade deftly across his throat. Blood sputtered onto the dashboard, more spilled from the open wound. It was a temporary but effective way to keep him quiet for a few minutes and I enjoyed the fresh, metallic scent that filled the air.

    I glanced at the driver who was occasionally pausing to check our status on the GPS. “How much longer?”

    “Just up ahead on the right,” he said, referring to the gas station. An easily recognizable brand, clean and well-lit but, on this stretch of interstate surrounded by little more than parched earth and rocks, people could disappear easily and they often did. There were many lost souls hidden in the desert.

    The hitchhiker was smart in choosing a place that would be familiar but isolated enough to prey on those who were stranded and desperate for a ride to the nearest town, even from a stranger, even when he made them uneasy. They ignored the nagging voice that told them something wasn’t right. Instead, they made attempts at conversation until they realized the hopelessness of their fate.

    His victims numbered close to a thousand. Only a handful would ever be discovered by authorities. Male, female, child or elderly, white, black, or brown…each one pissed themselves from the violent level of fear. His brutality knew no rules, no boundaries, no end…until now.

    The driver turned into the station and slowly pulled up to the pump. I watched him climb out of the car then go inside the station for a map. He played the part of a misguided tourist well. It wasn’t long before he’d gained the notice of the hitchhiker.

    My attention turned to the minivan at the pump ahead of us. Through the tinted back window, two small silhouettes swayed back and forth, entertained, I assumed, by the glowing rectangle of light–an electronic babysitter — no doubt playing a DVD for the 50th time during the family trip. It kept the kids occupied but, edged the parents to madness just the same. The child on the right stopped then tried to turn enough to look back to see me. The dark energy of the horsemen was an entity that was difficult to contain for longer than a few minutes. I continued to watch the child. He’d felt the energy. Perhaps he was one who would grow up to be like me and my ‘brothers’.

    A sudden intake of breath came from the front seat. My brother was waking. The only evidence of his injury was his blood-soaked shirt. I pulled a clean one from a bag then tossed it at him. He tugged it over his head and muttered “fucker” as the driver’s door and the passenger door opened. The hitchhiker was now settling onto the seat beside me. He had a slight questioning in his eyes but, his bloodlust was strong, and he was confident in his ability to dispatch all three of us.

    As the doors closed, the locks engaged. The interior of the car grew black and heavy with our energy, pulled the life from his chest with such excruciating pain that his body was frozen from shock.

    I looked into his eyes and saw in them the same helpless fear he had seen in his victims.

    “Hello…brother,” I smiled.

  5. Charlie85

    THE HITCHHIKER

    When my sister, Lauren, my cousin, Emma and I went on a cross-country tour of the US, we were planning to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip to celebrate my 21st birthday. What we were not planning on, however, was picking up a charming, charismatic hitchhiker by the name of Sean O’Connell- a 20-something Irishman.
    The three of us began our trip in New York, and we had planned to finish it in Los Angeles, making a four day stop in Las Vegas, to enjoy some partying along the strip.
    So, loading up our car, and filling her up with gas, we began the long, journey from The Big Apple to the Pacific coast.
    We had barely left the city, when my younger sister, Lauren started to complain about it being boring, and wanted me to pull over, for something to eat.
    I put up with her nagging and moaning as far as Washington DC, and chose to stop there, as our first point of interest.
    Standing within yards of The White House, was, for a young woman from Scotland, impressive. We took many pictures there.
    My next scheduled stop was Orlando, Florida, before heading west the following morning.
    I had let my big cousin, Emma, take control of the car for a while, giving me the opportunity to enjoy myself as a passenger, and not as a driver.
    We drove on for many miles, when the car needed to be filled up. So, Emma pulled into a nearby gas station, and she proceeded to fill us up, and I entered the store to purchase some food and drink for us.
    It was at this very gas station where we met our mysterious friend, Sean, and we began talking. Then he asked if he could join us as far as Denver, Colorado, as he had family he would like to visit, but no means to get there.
    Not one to pick up hitchhikers, I was almost reluctant to pick this one up. But there was just something about this man that drew me to him. I figured it was the Irishman in him.
    So, with a fourth member accompanying us on our voyage, Lauren, Emma and I warmed to our latest passenger, and he with us. Well, when I say “us”, he took a personal liking to me.
    And I took a liking to him. So, when we finally reached Denver, after many hours talking and getting to know each other, I was reluctant to say goodbye to Sean, and asked if he would like to see out the rest of the trip with us.
    Sean agreed almost too readily, confessing that he never did have relatives in Denver. He simply wanted to spend some time with me. So he did.
    That was last year, and we are planning to get married, before taking a honeymoon trip across the US, again. Then returning home to raise our baby daughter, Virginia, after the state in which we met.

    THE
    END

  6. Rockycombo

    “We need fuel.”

    The observation was met with intense silence, though that wasn’t unusual. The unusual part was the fact that the silence had been broken at all. Even I knew we needed fuel, and I was dozing off in the back seat. Frank had been driving for the past three hours, so he was probably the most aware of our fuel supply. Vlad had the least cause to ask us to stop, but that didn’t stop him from asking.

    I wasn’t surprised, necessarily. Vlad hadn’t been able to come with Frank and I to fuel up during the day. It was night now. The moon was still fresh-faced. Vlad hadn’t worked at all, but he didn’t want to be fresh-faced any longer.

    “Three miles,” Frank grunted unceremoniously. Vlad bristled with excitement like the whole experience was new to him, as if it still held some inkling of novelty. As if he hadn’t fueled up hundreds or thousands of time since his sixteenth birthday.

    Three miles passed in more silence before, as promised, Frank pulled into a gas station (funnily enough) a little way off the highway. The sickly lights above gave the man there a pale glow. It reflected off his jet black hair, shuffling slightly when he glanced up at our car pulling up to the pump next to him. He gave a small nod as Vlad walked past him, not comprehending the foul hunger that practically made his eyes glow.

    Frank was able to keep calm, as always. He seemed to enjoy this whole process even less than me. “Where you headed, friend?” I heard him ask from my place in the back of the car. I rolled down my window by a crack to hear his response.

    “Helena,” the stranger said cheerfully. “It’s going to be basecamp for my ski vacation. I’ve been looking forward to it all year.”

    I cringed a little at that; I always hated when they were going somewhere enjoyable. Frank’s steely expression was unchanged, though. “Got any family in Helena?”

    “Nope. It’s just going to be me and the mountains, just the way I like it.”

    Frank nodded solemnly. “That’s good to hear.”

    The man stepped into my line of sight, and I licked my lips. He was lean, but not particularly muscular or lanky. He fidgeted under my gaze, and I tensed, ready to jump out if I needed to. “Mister,” he said, turning his attention back to Frank. “Aren’t you going to gas up your car?”

    “Don’t need to.”

    Vlad appeared behind the man suddenly, pushing him forward before he knew what was happening. I opened the door and yanked him into the back seat while he stumbled, with Frank and Vlad following behind him. I was the first to sink my teeth into his neck, catching the scream before it could leave his mouth. A few short minutes of fueling up passed, the whole ceremony ending with Vlad pushing the body out of the car with a grin.

  7. Robin3486

    “How are you holding up?” My husband Bill asked.

    “I’m fine.” These words had recently become my new mantra.

    Our nine-year-old, Evie had finally fallen asleep in the backseat of our Ford Escape. She was once a bright and beautiful child with sparkling eyes. When other moms would complain to me about how difficult their daughters were at this age. I wouldn’t tell them for fear that I would be boasting, but I couldn’t relate. My Evie had always been easy-going and perfectly loving.

    That was until about eight months ago. It started with a headache. Next thing I knew my sweet Evie started acting like a different child. The pain would come and the littlest thing would set her into a rage sometimes so fierce that she would become violent. Those once sparkling eyes had become my window into this new little girl’s world. A world full of pain and anger.

    We were now about three hours into what we assumed would be the first of many trips from our hometown in Missouri to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where a team of doctors would be meeting us to decide how to fight our new enemy. The quarter sized tumor that had taken our Evie from us.

    “Mom, my head hurts. I feel like I’m gonna puke.”

    I realized it had been a few hours since her last pain pill. “Ok, honey, we are coming up to an exit.”

    As Bill filled the gas tank, I walked Evie in to use the restroom. I could tell that she was not really going to throw up. After all these months I knew the routine. After splashing some cold water on her face we bought a snack for her nausea and a water to wash down her next pill.

    As I walked back to the car with Evie in tow she spotted something in the parking lot. “Mom, wait!”

    I turned to look at her and to my surprise she was bent down petting a yellow lab. “Evie, you know you can’t pet strange dogs”. I said, walking over to them.

    “Mom, there is nothing strange about this dog!”

    When I looked into the dog’s eyes, I had to agree with her. It was a beautiful creature with deep eyes looking at me with intelligence. The dog was wearing no collar but looked well kept.

    For the first time in months my daughter was smiling. She had her arms around the dog protectively and I didn’t have the heart to make her let go. “Hello Agnes” she said.

    “What did you say?” I asked her.

    “This dog’s name is Agnes.” She said matter-of-factly.

    “Agnes?” I asked. My mother had died before Evie was born. I was surprised that she would even remember her name.

    The three of us headed back on the highway with Betty in the backseat licking Evie gently as she giggled.

    “Are you ready for your pain pill, Evie?” I asked

    “No, I’m good.”

    My husband and I smiled at eachother in the front seat happy to have a distraction for Evie during this trip.

    Later while Evie and Betty slept in the hotel room we wondered what to do about the dog. “It could belong to another little girl.” Bill worried.

    “Bill, I can’t. I can’t take this away from her right now. Look how happy she is. This dog is Evie’s! Who could need her more than she does right now?”

    When we tried to take Evie into the hospital the next morning Betty barked inconsolably. Finally a nurse walked by and told us that we should just bring the dog in. “We have therapy dogs here all of the time.” she said. “It is really not a problem.”

    Five hours later as the four of us sat waiting to meet the Neurosurgeon I could hardly believe what I saw. Evie sitting in the chair across from me with her hand on Betty’s head suddenly looked like the healthy, happy little girl I always knew.

    When the surgeon entered the room, tears burst into my eyes. He didn’t have to say anything as he stared at us shaking his head in amazement staring at the new scans. “There must have been an error on the first scans.” he said.

  8. Juniper56

    Gina, Mason, and I had decided to spend our spring break visiting fascinating historical sites in New England. A bit nerdy, I know, but we were all majoring in history. It was one in the morning and my turn to drive, with the others asleep in back. The Mason’s stepmother’s van had terrible gas mileage so I had to stop at a ramshackle little gas station in the middle of No Where, Massachusetts.
    They grumbled when I woke them up. I began to fill up the tank, while they ambled off in search of cheap snack food and poorly maintained restrooms. That’s when I noticed a girl sobbing next to the pump.
    “Are you okay?” I asked. She told me how she was lost and her car had broken down and there wasn’t any cell reception for her to call someone. I offered to give her a lift.
    “Thank you so much,” she sniffled. “My name’s Gracie.”
    “You’re welcome. My name’s Alex.” I helped her to her feet.
    When my friends returned I explained Gracie’s situation asked if they didn’t mind her riding with us. Gina squeaked “OMG! You poor thing!” Mason attempted to flirt with her.
    We all climbed back into the van and hit the road again. I observed that Gracie wasn’t particularly talkative, despite Gina’s efforts to ignite a conversation and Mason’s cheesy jokes. Eventually, they both gave up and we spent the next few hours in silence.
    “Can you stop here please? I need to get out.”
    “What?” Gracie softly spoken words pulled me away from wandering thoughts. She repeated the request.
    “But…there’s nothing here,” I replied, puzzled.
    The headlights flickered. The air cooled. Something dark shimmered in Gracie’s eyes, and her hair whipped around wildly as if there was wind inside the van. The radio began to spew static. I merely stared and gaped, disbelieving my surroundings. I glimpsed at my friends but they were asleep again, oblivious to the peculiarities.
    “I said…pull over…now!” Gracie hissed. When I turned back, she had vanished. I couldn’t stifle a scream.
    “What’s wrong, Al?” Gina asked. Before I could reply, the steering wheel pulled left of its own accord. The van swerved. I tried to keep it steady.
    “What in the…” Mason began. I lost my grip. The van ran off the road. Someone was screaming, probably all of us. And I could’ve sworn someone was laughing, an eerie high-pitched giggle.
    Metal screeched. Glass busted.
    My head was spinning, my body screaming. The rear-view mirror was shattered, but I could still pick out the dark shapes of my friends in the back seat. Neither of them was moving. I glanced at empty passenger seat next to me. The hitchhiker…where did she go? Had she even really existed?
    “Are you okay?” I heard her ask, though I didn’t see her anywhere. I scrambled out of the wreckage and ran. The laughter chased me.
    She… it killed my friends. I stumbled, fell. I wasn’t going to leave those woods alive.

  9. EL Drayton

    “Sally pull into this gas station here before we hit the highway. I really gotta go,” Trip said, pointing to a station not too far up the road. She gives him a strange look, knowing something is up, then looking at son sleeping soundly in the backseat decides it’s okay and pulls in. “I’ll only be a minute,” he says, jumping out of the car before she can say anything.

    “Honey,” she says, nudging her son slightly to get him to wake up, and he does. “I’m just going to be right outside putting gas in the car okay?”

    He smiles and nods at her to let her know he understands then closes his eyes and falls back to sleep. Several hours go by and Andy wakes up when the car hits a bump.

    “Whoa there fella, you alright?,” a stranger sitting next to him asks Andy who’s rubbing his eyes, surprised when he sees someone is sitting next to him.

    “It’s okay honey,” his mother reassures him, putting her hand on his leg to get his attention. “My son is deaf,” she says, as Andy reads her lips intently. His face begins to turn red, embarrassed that his mother is telling this to a perfect stranger.

    “Where are you folks headed?,” the stranger asks, smiling at Andy to make him relax a little, and he does.

    “There’s a school not too far from here that will help little Andy here live better in the world. I didn’t want to send him away but Trip here convinced me it’ll be the best thing for him,” Sally answered, sadness showing on her face. Andy squeezes his mother’s hand and she smiles at him reassuringly.

    “Well your husband there would be correct. I’ve heard great things about that school,” he says, winking at Andy then putting his long brown hair behind his ear, revealing a hearing aid he’s wearing.

    Andy suddenly smiles and points and doing all kinds of sign language at his mother who’s trying to understand what her son is saying.

    “Slow down honey, what is it?”

    “I think he wants you to ask me if I’m deaf like him?,” the stranger replied, showing her his hearing aid as well. He then then begins to sign and speak, “I can do you one better Andy, I’m the principal of the school you’ll be attending.”

    “It’s a good thing we were at that exact gas station just now when your car broke down isn’t it Carl?,” Trip asked, looking at him through the rear view mirror, making sure to keep his eyes on the road.

    Suddenly Sally knew what was going on. Trip set this whole thing up so she wouldn’t keep worrying about leaving her son at this school. She squeezes his forearm and mouths the words ‘thank you’ as her son starts up a rather animated conversation with Carl.

  10. Hiba Gardezi

    Crickets sang in the bushes outside my house and the scene outdoors was all draped in dark velvet when I first saw it.
    A black SUV, the only car at 3a.m in our little country side stopped outside the gas station opposite the road my drive way opened up to.
    It was a strange sight. The vehicle crept past the road slowly, hesitant and then came to a quiet stop.
    A man in shorts and sun glasses came out, followed by a woman in cargoes and a ponytail. After she slipped onto the road a little boy, maybe eight or nine in jeans and a big orange sweater jumped out.
    I couldn’t hear them from my bedroom window. All I heard was my breath, my sniffing and my shuffling.
    But I saw them alright
    I saw them when they walked in a line to the store at the petrol pump and when joined by a fourth, pointed to house number 46. I lived in 47.
    That’s the last remembrance I have from that night. I think I fell asleep then because I woke up, with tired eyes and a sleepy ‘can I stay home’ by the window when my mother called in the morning for preparations for school.
    I came back in the afternoon from my English lesson to a weepy neighbor and a hassled neighborhood.
    Mr. Jonas had vanished. That was the case and his father, his only company in the red brick 46 with his long grey beard had a long face today too.
    He didn’t talk.
    He tried to. People asked him questions but only the first three or four words of his answers were intelligible then all you could hear was sobs and he cried so bad that all a man could do was say sorry and walk away.
    Where was his mother? Where was this sad man’s warm lap and where were the fingers that could caress his red cheeks?
    I was but ten and my little heart leapt about my chest, how come he had no one?
    He asked me that
    He came, hands on my shoulders, his eyes fixed on mine. ‘Where is my last friend? Boy, help me find him. I want a friend.’
    Some collage boys, ripped him off me and around us I heard people say he was crazy.
    That the last screw holding him in place had fallen off.
    I crept in to his big cold bedroom at twelve that night. He lay in bed in tears, his fingers flipping through a picture book.
    He saw me as I fell in through the window.
    ‘Hello, lad’ he smiled. A content, satisfied smile.
    I thought he’d be asleep.
    ‘Are you here to help me?’
    I nodded my head, a bit afraid, a little excited.

    1. Observer Tim

      You did a really great job revealing the setting and showing the age of your protagonist here, Hiba. The story itself is also touching and disturbing at the same time. I find myself wondering why Mr. Jonas was taken away, and hoping that it wasn’t as awful as my imagination is making it. All in all it’s a good one!

    1. dragonchef

      Amaria – just write! Let your fingers do the thinking. Most of these stories here were more than likely spur-of-the-moment thoughts that just appeared out of nowhere, like Cosi’s autistic android – Cosi’s words not mine. Drink a big cup of espresso and go for it.

  11. cosi van tutte

    She stood in the middle of the forest.

    And the full moon shined through her, making her ethereal with its light.

    “Matthias will come. He will come. He said he would come. So, he will come.”

    Her voice was like a whisper from another room.

    “He won’t disappoint me. He said he would come. So, I will wait for him.”

    ***

    The moon disappeared into a bank of clouds.

    Thunder made its voice heard.

    And the rain fell through her.

    “Matthias will come. He will come. I know he will come. He was always faithful to his word. He will come. Matthias will come.”

    Her voice was like yesterday’s echo.

    “He will come. I will wait. I will be faithful. He will come. Matthias will come.”

    Lightning flashed, making her half-disappear with its brightness.

    “But what if?”

    The power of that What If stopped the rain.

    “What if he can’t remember our chosen meeting spot? What if he’s just outside the forest waiting for me as I am waiting for him? Matthias. Matthias.”

    She floated through the trees, whispering his name. “Matthias. Matthias. Matthias.”

    And her voice was like the rustling of graveyard leaves.

    ***

    She reached the edge of the forest. “Matthias. Matthias. Matthias.”

    But he did not call back to her.

    She passed through the forest’s edge.

    If she had breath within her, she would have gasped.

    Everything was gone.

    Everything she knew.

    The forest.

    The stream.

    The rolling hills leading to the Havishaws’ farm.

    Everything was rendered flat and noisy and busy.

    The ground was not grass, was not dirt. It was hard and black with white and yellow lines. People in unusual vehicles sped past her, not seeing her.

    “Where am I? Where are all of the horses and carriages? Where is it all? Where has my world gone?”

    The rain fell, hard and wet, although she did not feel it.

    “Where is Matthias?”

    Her voice was like winter’s rain.

    One of the vehicles pulled alongside her.

    She took a couple of nervous steps back.

    The window moved down.

    A man with a kind, plain face looked out at her. “Hey. You look lost.”

    “I am. I am so lost.”

    He smiled. “Get in the car and I’ll take you to wherever you need to go.”

    “Can you take me to Matthias?”

    “Matthias?”

    “Matthias Evergrown. His house should be down the hill over there, but the hill is gone and so is his home. Do you know him? Do you know where I can find him?”

    His smile fell into sympathy. “Yes. I can take you to him. Come on in.”

    “Thank you, kind sir.”

    1. Observer Tim

      I’m of two minds on this story, Cosi. Part of me says that this ghost of a girl has found a traveler who can take her to the place where she can find her lost love. The other part says that even ghosts can be the victims of cruel strangers. The hopeful part of my soul is wishing for the former.

      You created a wonderfully artistic story with little more than the description of the environment around the MC. Great job!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Hi Cosi, there no doubt in my mind. The stranger will take her to his grave site, of that I’m certain. As far as how they will meet, the stranger is an angel who will lead the way to a reunion between the two lovers, both lost in a mist, a mist separating life from eternal sleep. And if it doesn’t end this way, I’m going to be royally ‘you know,’

    2. Still JM

      Hey Cosi! This was so lovely and poetic I just had to chime in. Your language in this was just beautiful, especially the comparison of her voice to a whisper from another room, yesterday’s echo, the rustling of graveyard leaves and winter’s rain. Words I wish I’d written!

      1. cosi van tutte

        Hi, JM!

        Thank you so much!

        It’s been forever since I’ve “seen” you over here. Hope all is well with you.

        I’ve been keeping busy balancing work, posting on here, and posting stories on my three blogs, and working on my off-line stories. But it’s all good. I can’t complain about any of the above. 😀

          1. cosivantutte

            Thanks, JM!

            My other two blogs are ambroseandelsie.wordpress.com and onceuponasundaymorn.wordpress.com .

            Ambroseandelsie is an ongoing story based on a vampire character from several of my prompt stories on here.

            The stories on onceuponasundaymorn are Bible stories as seen from different points of view.

    3. dragonchef

      Nice twist on M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village”.

      OT said: “. . . even ghosts can be the victims of cruel strangers.”
      Sorry OT but that’s the part that brings out the excitement in me. The fact that this guy can see the ghost, offer her a ride – not that a ghost should need one – and she agrees gives me the willies.

      Once again, nicely done, Cosi. Are you getting a book out soon, by any chance?

      1. cosi van tutte

        Thank you, dragonchef!

        Guilty secret: I love “The Village”. It’s such a sad, autumn-type of movie. And I absolutely love the soundtrack for it. So beautiful!

        As for whether I have any books out yet, no. Just works in progress.

  12. JosephFazzone

    **I apologize that it’s so long. I also apologize for my absence New job, kids, busy, busy…but still trying to find time to write. Miss you all. ***
    ————————————–

    “Thank you for the lift,” Ebbie said.

    “Not a worry, friend,” the shorter man replied, “The name is Gerald Past. GP for short, pronounced the way it’s spelled, gp!”

    Ebbie scanned his new friend. He wore an orange and green shirt, purple pants, and fifty three cent flip flops, a licorice red. His tangled mop of blonde dreads wandered around as he stood there in the whipping wind.

    “Terrible jokes,” GP admitted with a wry shrug. “But then stupid jokes used to be your thing…” He trailed off ominously, and then whispered, “back then then then.”

    “What?” Ebbie said. He shivered biting off the cold.

    A tall man stepped out of the dusty blue minivan wearing a dusty blue trench coat, khaki pants, and brown shoes. “Cease and desist that awful reminiscence,” he snapped at GP waving his blue scarf in his direction.

    “This is Horace Present,” grumbled the distressed GP. “He will say that he lives in the now, but we all know that’s ancient history.”

    “Now see here”, Horace cried out indignantly. “I’ll not have you slander my personal idiom. This action bankrupts any delight I take in our cause.” He crossed him arms quite crossly.

    “I sense unease in our new friend,” a silky voice sang. From out of the driver seat, a handsome young lad leaned out of the window from the driver’s seat and smiled with glamour. “It’s best to lend a hand to our friend.” He extended his languidly, “Your name?”

    “Ebbie,” Ebbie answered.

    “Ebbie,” the young man finished.

    GP smiled brightly. “That’s Everett Future. I call him EHF.”

    “I call him, Effin…”

    Everett whistled sharply. The sting to the ears rapidly brought the conversation to a halt. He waved with his arm. “Come, let’s get inside, we’ve a long journey to…” He looked questioningly at Ebbie.

    “Baltimore?” Ebbie queried.

    “Baltimore!” Horace clapped his hands and spat. “Need I remind you of the time?”

    “Uh,” GP scoffed, “Early is better than later. Isn’t that something the two of you should be promoting?”

    Horace stood still, stunned, and then blinked, turned toward Ebbie and said, “Right then, let’s be off.”
    He bowed gracefully and gestured for Ebbie to enter the vehicle.

    Desperation knows no caution. Ebbie had no choice. Here was rock bottom, and he had to get to Baltimore, to the only man who could rescue him from the abyss he’d fashioned for himself. He nodded politely, and got in the back of the van.

    Everett started the van, announcing, “Buckle up, we got some miles to eat.”

    Ebbie waved and then buckled up. The other’s piled in the van. Horace sat shot gun, while GP sat in the back with Ebbie. For awhile, they drove in silence, each with their own thoughts. Ebbie looked out the window, and began to feel the anger return. How dare they do this to him? His friends, his lover, his business partners, his fists clenched as he swore through gritted teeth, they will all pay!

    GP gave him a worried glance and said, “I don’t think he can wait till later. We need to do this now.”

    “It’s not Christmas,” Horace snapped. “It’s not even the right year.”

    “It’s almost Christmas. It is September”, GP countered.

    “September, September,” mused Everett. “What’s in September?”

    “Independence Day in Botswana!” GP cheered raising his smart phone triumphantly in the air.

    Horace gave him a long look.

    “When is it?” Everett asked and then honked at the car in front of him and yelled. “Are we waiting for the return of the Wooly Mammoths? Turn already!”

    “The 30th of September,” GP answered.

    “Good for the Botswanese, Botswanicans, Botswanarians…” Horace stumbled and tumbled as he mumbled. “What are they called?”

    “Batswana,” GP answered.

    “What?”

    “Batswana,” GP repeated. “That’s what people from Botswana are called.” He raised his phone up as proof.

    “Bat and not Bot?” Horace looked puzzled, “No ‘an’, no ‘anian’?”

    “Just the Bat,” GP answered cautiously.

    “Hmm,” Horace said with a smiled. “New thing learned, DING!”

    Ebbie looked at all three of them uncertainly. “What are you talking about?”

    “When is it?” Everett asked again ignoring Ebbie.

    “The 30th.”

    “Friday,” Everett snapped his fingers. “A day a way.”

    “We could drive slower,” GP suggested.

    “It doesn’t matter!” Horace shouted.

    “What?”

    “It doesn’t matter,” he shouted again. “It’s not Christmas.”

    “It’s a holiday,” Everett complained.

    “I’m sure it’s a great one for the Botswanans,” Horace began.

    “Batswana,” GP corrected.

    “Bot Bat, it’s not Christmas! It’s September!”

    GP pointed at Ebbie. “Look at him. Can you not feel the anger stir. It is the poison that taints his soul.”

    “To a shell of a man”, Everett sighed sadly. “the bitter fruit.”

    “Yes, I know, the epitome of the death of a party,” Horace said with a shake of his head. “But we aren’t to speak of it now.”

    “Hey,” complained Everett, “death’s my thing!”

    “Sorry”, Horace conceded.

    “Dress rehearsal?” GP questioned.

    “We’ve practiced enough, besides we have that chap in Cleveland to overhaul.” Horace answered, again shaking his head.

    “You guys are bonkers,” Ebbie complained sourly. “Let me off here. I can find my own way.”

    “Alas,” GP said sadly. “We know. Let him go.”

    When he got off, Ebbie turned and said, “You guys are Effin’ nuts!”

    Everett looked at him sharply. “The next time we meet, Ebenezer, will have us a little chat.”

    “On Christmas,” Horace intoned. “Not on some random Independence day for the…” He paused and looked at GP.

    “Bats,” GP said with a smile.

    “Batswana,” Horace said with a sigh.

    “We will have much to discuss.” GP pointed at Ebbie. “But it would be best to heed us now. Stave off the desire for revenge. Your path will only lead to the dark and dreary.”

    “It’s my life,” Ebbie said stubbornly. He stepped out of the van and slung his bag over his shoulder.

    “That it is,” Horace smiled wickedly. “Until we meet again,” he said and he flipped him off.

    Ebbie was shocked, and he heard GP’s voice admonishing Horace as the van drove away, “Was that necessary.”

    The van drove off.

    Ebbie watched the van for a moment, pondering what they said, but then became lost in the thought of his own revenge. Young Ebenezer began to walk towards the gas station’s pay phone as the memories of the strange ride began to fade.

    It wasn’t until Christmas Eve many many years later that he remembered.

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hi, Joseph!

      Long time no “see”. And oh my gosh! What a story to come back with! This was awesome. If I had to pick a favorite line, I’d start with this one for sure: “This action bankrupts any delight I take in our cause.” And the whole conversation about what people from Botswana are called.

      Great job! 😀

    2. Observer Tim

      I guess Christmas Eve was booked that year. I love what you did with this, Joey; it reminds me of the bits of mangled literature that Terry Pratchett would sneak into his books sometimes. This type of self-aware humour is difficult to pull off and keep it funny, so congratulations on that count.

      P.S. Welcome back. 🙂

    3. dragonchef

      Wow! I’m speechless. I am – without speech.
      Favorite line: Well, I would end up writing most of the whole story here so never mind.
      All I can say is . . . I am not worthy

      Question: Not that there are any word-count police lurking in the columns, but I have to ask (of all of you, not just of Josepy here): I know I’m a newbie, but I thought there was a rule of 500 words or less. Granted, 500 words is a bit too short of a short short to really get one’s thoughts across, but there seems little regard for that limit. Are we free then to indulge in a more lengthy post, within reason?

      1. Observer Tim

        You are correct, sir.

        The 500 word limit is another part of the challenge; like all such rules it is not (at present) enforced. It would be hard to do anyway, unless an imposed limit included titles and HTML constructs (e.g. links). In fact, I’m not aware of any simple web script to count words.

        That said, my suggestion is to try for the 500-word limit, which can really help to focus your storytelling skill, grammar, vernacular, and vocabulary (all of which are important to the craft), but don’t pop a gasket if you go over.

        Not all contributors do this, but it’s a good idea should things start to be enforced in future. Happy writing!

        1. hillsworth

          I agree with the word count limit. I havent been on here for about four years and back then that was one thing I was a stickler for and pointed it out whenever possible. I took a writing course for children books and magazine articles and it stressed how important it is to hold to the guidelines, especially the word count. One of the hardest things to do os cut up your own story, but it is neccessary and makes you a better writer for it.

          1. dragonchef

            Thanks Hilly/Tim,
            I wrote my post in MS Word to ensure word limitations – much to my chagrin – then copy/pasted it. It was painful to cut out what I did to fit the regs, but I managed. And after reading Josepy’s (sp?) take on Christmas Carole (so good) it felt even worse. But, rules is rules, as they say. And I hope I can prove myself part of your family.

        2. ReathaThomasOakley

          Tim has given a perfect comment on the 500 word limit. I try to stay as close as possible, and think my writing has improved when I’m aware of every word. However, there are times when I simply can’t cut anymore. Welcome to the site. I’ve found it to be encouraging and inspiring and I’m currently working on two continuing stories I’ve posted here using the weekly prompts.

      2. JosephFazzone

        Thanks Dragonchef. I appreciate that.

        I have to explain. I normally like to keep it within the parameters, but lately I’ve been so busy, that yesterday I literally had an hour to myself. So I seized the opportunity, wrote it out, edited up a little, and copied and pasted here. All with the mindset that it wouldn’t even accept my prompt in the first place. My days, nowadays are, wake up, feed kids, dress kids, get dressed, drop kids off at school, go to work, LUNCH – Eat as fast as possible, I write at least 300 words, and spend about 30 minutes playing my little travel guitar in the parking lot, back to work, commute home, home, hug kids, kiss fiance, make dinner, homework, play with kids, read books, story time (we make up stories), bed, quality time with my love, and then sleep. Wow, that was a lot. So with this, I just wanted to see if I could throw something out as fast as possible, and I just couldn’t find the time to go back, get the scalpel, and Jack the Ripper it. I’ve learned a great deal of writing by doing so, but it needs a more devoted time, and focused mind to do that step. I just didn’t have the time. Seeing how I could spit out 1000 words relatively fast, I can try and ease up, and try and half that, so I can spend time sanding the corners. Whew. Hope that answers that. I do agree though, it’s a fun challenge to aim for the 500 too. This is all a very long excuse, but that is what happened. Hopefully I can write soon.

        1. dragonchef

          Honestly Josepy, I don’t think you could have pulled off such a good script with anything less than you did. 1000+ words made it perfect. So, I am glad you had . . . “no time”. 😎
          Kids, kids, kids! I remember a time when I didn’t have any either, and writing time was plentiful. But as kids appeared like popped corn so did new jobs to keep up with their needs.
          It’s always something.
          Thankfully, now, some spare time appears to be returning – though nothing has changed really, so I don’t know how that happened (God graciously added a few more minutes to my day, I guess).
          Thankful, nonetheless.

          These stories were some really fun reads, and writing again feels gooooood. And it’s nice to have a little community to communicate with (I know – grammar faux pas)
          Perhaps I can get back to some old books that I started pre-chillun.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Hi Joseph, having raised a bevy of children, build a business and what ever, I learned a trick or someone handed the idea to me. For things you have no time for in a busy schedule, do them first above all else. There is free time, you have to trick yourself. Get up at five in the morning, this is not a mis-print. Between five and six thirty, no one is stirring, not even a mouse. Of course it’s nine thirty today, at my age, I can take a day off.

          Well, then you say, “I can’t think at five in the morning”. Absolutely not true. Train your mind. You will be amazed at how much an early morning start will do for you, even business wise. Send your boss a complicated question at five in the morning, he’s no dummy. he’ll read the time of the email and be impressed. Want to know something ekse, he is up at that hour and will quickly respond. How do I know this? I’ve done it a lot, especially with contractors and commercial real estate brokers.

          On to the story, what a blast, you were on a roll. Rule two, never post a story freshly written. Let it season a few hours and do a rewrite. Especially helpful on word count.

  13. Dick Allen

    This is a true story.
    It was the spring of 1966 and I and three friends were headed to Acapulco from Purdue U. for spring break. As we were leaving Mexico City southbound towards the toll road to Acapulco, we stopped for gas at a Pemex station. As we were getting ready to leave for the final leg of our journey we saw a young man standing by the road, guitar in hand, and looking for a ride. We immediately saw the opportunity to maybe learn a little about the area, and also help him towards his destination. We pulled over and picked him up.
    He was all smiles as he got in the car with us, and we quickly realized he didn’t know much, if any English. Luckily one of our group know some Spanish and so from that point on we had no communication problem. He told us his name was Juan and he was going to Cuernavaca, a town about sixty miles south of Mexico City. It was right on the way. We ask him about his guitar and he began to play and sing. His playing was excellent and we did learn a few things about Mexican music.
    He told us that he had been in Mexico City for several days to play at a gathering of local musicians. He wanted to someday be in a mariachi band. As we traveled south on the toll road, he began to tell us stories about the local area. To our left was the great volcano Popocatépatl, the snow covered peak with wisps of smoke and clouds dancing around the top: and to the right, the mountains where hunters stalk the elusive jaguar.
    As we neared the town of Cuernavaca, Juan invited us to join him at his home for a cold cerveza. We naturally accepted his invitation and he regaled us with more stories of the area and more of his native music. We knew that we still had many miles to go so finally bid farewell to our new friend from Mexico and continued our journey. I’ve never forgotten the wonderful experience we shared with the hitchhiker on our long ago trip to the beautiful beaches of Acapulco.

    1. Observer Tim

      This story is wonderful and happy, Dick, an emotional effect increased by its being factual. I could easily see this in a magazine for travelers as a short article to reinforce the true joy of the journey and the experiences one might have on the way.

      1. Dick Allen

        Thanks for the kind comment. Being a true story, it always seems to be a little better than one made up. I’m new at this and will have to do some more of the prompts. Lot’s of fun.

  14. dragonchef

    Ricky squeezed the gas pump a few more times, the last click sending a small splash out onto his hand. He thought briefly of ignoring it but knew the smell would not go over well inside the car. Not to mention this desert heat could ignite a match – a brief image of his hand in flames was both disturbing and funny. Placing the pump back into its cradle, Ricky eyed the bathroom on the side of the station and decided it would behoove him to wash off the gas spill as opposed to hearing about it for the next three hundred miles.

    There was only one restroom, he discovered. Both male and female images adorned the door – in keeping with the times, he surmised. He tried the handle – it was locked. A worn hiking pack reclined against the wall near the door. He smirked.

    Ricky moved to distance himself from the backpack, vagrants can be unruly about that, but no sooner did he step away when the door swung open, almost violently, surprising him to slip off the curb behind him.

    A hand slipped under his arm and caught him before he fell.

    It was a young girl. Breathtakingly pretty, though she wore no makeup and her clothes were ragged and baggy. A threadbare, grey knit beanie adorned her head exposing only a hint of red hair. But she smelled clean, fresh, as if she had just changed in the restroom after washing the road grime and sweat from her body. She sparkled. Her eyes sparkled. Her smile sparkled.

    “You don’t want to go in there.” she said waving her free hand behind her. “Whew!”

    There was a depth in her voice, but there was also lightness, a tinkling like glass chimes gently tossed in a breeze – a breeze that he swore he could feel as she spoke. And an accent, but one he could not define.

    Ricky attempted to remove the girl’s hand from his arm, but a strange sensation of obeisance overcame him, and he lowered his hand and his eyes. In doing so he noticed the duct tape wrapped around her hiking boots.

    She followed his gaze. “The latest fashion in road-weary footwear. All the hikers are wearing them.” She placed her right foot forward in modelling fashion to emphasize the matter, and laughed. Her lightness became contagious and he laughed as well.

    Her grip softly tightened on his arm. “Are you headed north, by chance?”

    “North. Yes. We’re going north.”

    Really, he wasn’t aware of exactly where they were headed anymore.

    “Have you got room for another?”

    “Absolutely! Please join us.”

    The girl got in the back seat with her backpack, and smiled at Ricky’s friends.

    “Hello,” she greeted.

    “Hi! Where’re you headed?” One friend asked.

    “Just up a ways,” she replied sweetly.

    A minute away from the station and an explosion shocked Ricky and his friends out of their dream state. Behind them, the gas station was ablaze. And the girl from the restroom was gone.

    1. ldennis

      The shining pin on the woman’s lapel was blinding. Joanie almost lost control, struggling to steer straight into the open lane next to the gas pump. She screamed, “Don’t fear, we will get to California uninjured.”
      The thirtyish attendant walked swiftly to the black Grand Cherokee jeep where three passengers sat squinting and shading their water-filled eyes from her glaring 3D California-shaped pin. Suspecting their irritation, the attendant surprised them by removing her pin and giving it to Joanie with no explanation. Immediately, in her Western accent, she asked, “How may I help you? Joanie mumbled, “Fill up with Premium.” Joanie handed the glistening pin to Roosevelt to put in the glove compartment. Their eyes were too watery to examine it. Suddenly, gushing strong winds swept through their jeep leaving them unusually chilly on this overcast July morning in South Jersey. They sat cold and dumbfounded from what had just happened.
      After pumping the gas, the attendant again shocked them, replying, “You do not owe me a penny. Just let me travel with you. I won’t be a problem. I will explain on the way.” Then crying uncontrollably, she held tightly onto the driver’s front door handle. Joanie insisted on going inside to pay. But then the attendant opened her jacket and displayed a long nasty-looking scar on her chest. “My husband and I owned this gas station,” she said. “Business is bad though. He takes it out on me. I need to get to Los Angeles to the HollyPalm Orphanage. Even if you are not going to LA –although I thought I heard you say something about going to California. I lived at the orphanage most of my childhood. The Sisters said that I could always return if I needed help. Please, let me come with the three of you,” she said weeping. “My husband will be back soon. He will never look for me in LA. I never told him about the orphanage. Read the inscription on the back of the pin.” Roosevelt took the pin, not gleaming as much now, from the glove compartment. He read the inscription: “You will always have a home at HolyPalm.” “We are going on a cross-country trip to San Francisco, LA and Nevada to celebrate our 30th birthday,” said Phoebe from the back seat. “This feels very uncomfortable to me; we don’t know you,” said Joanie. “You might accuse us of kidnapping!” Oh, I wouldn’t, said the attendant, whose name was Lena. “I promise not to be any trouble, and I will repay you one day. May the Lord bless you!”
      Lena ran quickly in and out the station carrying a knapsack and a bulky brown leatherette bag. She opened the jeep’s backdoor and made herself comfortable next to Phoebe. Joanie drove off. Minutes later, Lena looked back and saw her husband driving onto the gas station’s lot. Sighing with relief, she asked for her sparkling pin. “Now let me tell you the story behind the sparkle in my pin.”

      1. Observer Tim

        This story gives a solid tug to the heartstrings, IDennis. It’s a touching look into the mind’s eye of someone fleeing an abusive relationship. I can see where apatho-Americans would feel uncomfortable at Lena’s story. There is little worse than seeing the human tragedy in its raw unvarnished glory. You presented it really well here.

        Now what about that pin… ?

        1. ldennis

          Thank you for your comments, Observer Tim and Reatha. My intent was to allow one”s imagination to go in many directions with regards to the not so innocent lady, her pin, and the orphanage. I am new here as you can see —very excited though as a novice!. I am enjoying the stories!!

      2. dragonchef

        How does a little pin attached to a person’s shirt/blouse reflect enough sunlight, while that person is hurrying to greet a moving vehicle no less, to momentarily blind three people inside said moving vehicle all at the same time.
        Somebody? Anybody? Bueller?
        Survey said . . . Magic!
        Second most popular answer . . . Divine Inspiration! – She was, from an orphanage run by nuns, yes? And she is undoubtedly Christian – “May the Lord bless you!”
        Least popular answer . . . 3000 lumen LEDs powering the beacon within (probably not)
        Idennis (sorry, but I must dig in and nitpick a bit – not that I have any right to do so, not being perfect myself – but it helps me to be a better writer when I critique – something I hope others will do for me as well) – a few things here:
        1) Was it HollyPalm or HolyPalm – big difference (one, a plant that doesn’t have palm fronds – while the other makes more sense . . . so we’ll go with that – probably just a spelling typo anyway, right?)
        2) Why would she hand them the pin? Something about having them touch it to control them or sway their thoughts?
        3) A very bright light would not normally cause a person’s eyes to water, let alone three people – but more than likely create flash spots that would not leave for a while. Of course, their eyes might water form trying to rub away the flash spots
        Okay, maybe more than a few things –
        4) Lena said, “My husband and I owned this gas station.” – Tense doesn’t agree with situation: They still own it.
        5) . . . whose name was Lena . . . Have her introduce herself instead – show, not tell
        6) Minutes later, Lena looked back and saw her husband . . . Chance are minutes down the road and you won’t even see the gas station.
        7) For an easier read, separate your quotes into new paragraphs – that last paragraph was a monster.
        I did say nitpick, didn’t I? Sorry
        Other than that, I must say, I am intrigued as to where this is heading. And, along with OT, that pin seems to hold the key to this whole thing.
        And that . . . husband . . . the protagonist . . . sure to give chase no doubt. Will he be chasing her, or the pin? Are Lena and the pin linked somehow, inseparable? If so, would she hand over the pin to the strangers in the car? How does she know they aren’t friends with her husband?
        Oh dear. I am running off, aren’t I? Must be the coffee.

        1. ldennis

          Thank you so much for the thought provoking comments.
          1) Hollygrove Orphanage is in LA – Marilyn Monroe was a resident once. For the story, I changed the name to HollyPalm. Perhaps Holly bush or Hollywood Palm would have been a better choice.
          2) Not your ordinary pin — potential- powers to sway.
          3) Good point. Thanks! Usually powerful pin tho.
          4) Typo. Thanks!
          5) Good point!
          6) Initially, I wrote, “a few feet down the road, Lena looked back ….”
          7) Great suggestions! Thank you very much!
          I wrote this, randomly while sitting at my computer, in about 10 minutes. I just wanted to stir up my creative juices! This story was intended to be open-ended.

          1. dragonchef

            Oh, your creative juices are well stirred, my friend. Trust me.
            Open-ended to the max, no doubt.
            And thanks for your story. Keep up the good work.

    2. Observer Tim

      I’m not sure if she was a hot anarchist or a supernatural gas-station-bombing babe, but either way it’s an explosive bunch of fun. Unless you’re the gas station attendant. I especially love the descriptions and the gaps in the narrator’s memory. Good job, DragonChef.

    3. jhowe

      There are some really good stories this week and yours is one of them. You painted the pretty bedraggled girl perfectly and I was so shocked by the ending. Good job.

      1. dragonchef

        At the time of writing the story, she was Ricky’s Guardian Angel. But who know what can change from a reader’s perspective. So many times after having someone read the beginnings of my my stories did readers have questions that ultimately changed the course of history, as it were.

    4. JosephFazzone

      Dragonchef! Very cool story. What a shock at the end. I would like to think the girl was a ghost of the girl who somehow managed to enact her revenge on whoever owned the gas station. I don’t know, but wow does this story spark the imagination and let the flood of questions rush in. Great job!

    5. ldennis

      Dragonchef, I really enjoyed this story! Did the pretty disheveled hitchhiker want someone to take or examine her biking pack —the reason she left it outside the restroom? I am assuming that the explosives were in the restroom — or a dead or unconscious body—-a very clever (reply) remark:
      ““You don’t want to go in there.” she said waving her free hand behind her. “Whew!”
      He did not go in — thus I am assuming that he did not have an urgent need to wash his hands or the pretty girl had a powerful hypnotic grip on him.
      Or was this all a dream? Or were they in a dreamlike state because they were mesmerized by the company of the pretty girl?
      “A minute away from the station and an explosion shocked Ricky and his friends out of their dream state.”
      I loved it! I would love to know more about the mysterious girl.

  15. hillsworth

    Sam rounded the curve in the road with his left arm danglng limply from the open window. In the passenger seat, Doug’s right hand wrapped the doorhandle in a deathgrip while his left hand applied more pressure to the dashboard, causing little finger dimples in the padded vinyl. From the backseat arose a hoarse croaking sound as Jesse leaned his large framed body to the right, trying to counterbalance the weight of the vehicle.
    A smirk played on Sams face as the Uni-mart came into view. His intention was simple. A strong cup of sugar-laced coffee. One that Martha would balk at if she knew where he was headed. To Sam, Doug and Jesse were merely props, an easy way to get out from under Marthas scrutiny and fulfil his yearning for the sweet, bitter nectar. She treated him like a child sometimes and he came to resent her for it.
    When Sam pulled up to the curb, both passengers gave a sigh of relief that the ride was temporarily halted. Doug rubbed his hands together, trying to restore the loss of blood to his appendages while Jesse silently cursed at himself for letting Sam talk him into this moronic trip.
    Sam exited the car and strode purposefully into the gas station, but seconds later burst out through the door, running as fast as his old legs would take him, yelling at his two partners to get the car running. Doug and Jesse just stared, slack jawed and hollow eyed as the door to the cafeteria slammed open behind Sam and Martha hurried through in her scrubs.
    “Samuel Ryerson! You better get back to your room! You know the rules! No coffee after five o’clock! You act like this is your first week in this home!
    Sam hobbled over to the gurney and slowly climbed back onto the front while Doug settled his crippled body on the thin mattress behind him. Jesse moved behind them and with a shove, got them rolling back down the hall toward the rec room. Martha stood with her hands on her hips, chuckling and shaking her head. Same thing, everyday. Just like clockwork.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is a great chuckle, Hillsworth. I love the heist movie vibe with the clever reveal at the end. Messrs Python coined the term “senile delinquents” which about sums it up. This is an example of a story that works best in print, as that does the best job of jarring the reader with the reveal. Very well done.

  16. jhowe

    “Free kittens! Did you see that sign? Free kittens.”

    “I saw it Dad.”

    “Why do you call me Dad? Can I get a kitten?”

    “Would you prefer Charlie?” I hoped his magnificently untidy mind would get off the kitten kick.

    “What I prefer is to be called by my name.”

    What was it this time, Buck Rogers, James Kirk, Dirk Pitt? I took a stab at his favorite. “Ok, Spock, I’m going to pull in here and get some gas.” He gave me the Vulcan salute and I parked and got out of the car. We had four hours to go before we reached Mohave el Instituto in northern Mexico and the controversial alternative treatment regimen he had qualified for. I decided to go in for some coffees and when I returned an attractive dark haired woman was sitting in the passenger seat chatting away with my father in the back.

    “What’s going on, Spock?” I said, eyeing the woman.

    “He’s not Spock, he’s Charlie,” she said. This was a revelation. He hadn’t said his own name in years.

    “How do you know that, did he tell you?” Dad looked straight ahead, unfocused.

    “He told me his name was Spock and I told him to quit acting like a fool or I’d get a ride with someone else.”

    “That worked?”

    “What do you think, Charlie? Am I going to Mexico with you?” Her eyes sparkled as she looked at him then at me.

    “Yes, I want you to come with us,” he said clearly.

    “He told you we were going to Mexico?” Either she had the magic touch or she was stalking us or something.

    “You can’t give in to him, Patrick. He knows more than you think. You have to learn what makes him tick.”

    “Apparently what makes him tick is you.” He hadn’t said my name in three years.

    “It’s not just me; it’s how I treat him, like a man.” My face flushed with shame as I realized I’d been treating him like a child ever since he became ill.

    “Why would you want to go to Mexico with us? What’s your game?”

    “Be quiet Patrick,” my dad said. I got in and started the car.

    “You need a passport, do you have one?” I said.

    “I do, and I’ve already been cleared at the border.”

    “Cleared at the border?” I almost expected her to pull a gun or something. I looked in the rearview and caught my dad’s intense stare, as if warning me not to mess this up.

    “Patrick, I’m Loretta Iglesias, I’m with Mohave.”

    “You’re with the institute? What’s going on?”

    “We’ve found that our guests are much more responsive when we initiate treatment using our own terms.”

    “So, this is part of his treatment?”

    “Not just Charlie’s treatment. We’re treating you as well.” She reached back and patted my dad’s knee and then settled in her seat and watched the scenery. “By the way, this wasn’t included in the price that was agreed on. I charge a hundred dollars an hour, so don’t dillydally.”

    I had no intention of dillydallying. I had four hours to work up my courage to ask her if she was single. Then it hit me that this was the kind of thinking she wouldn’t like. So I said, “So where are we going to dinner with my four hundred dollars?” She smiled and gave a small shrug.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      A most interesting, and intriguing, take on the prompt. The part about how some talk to people with dementia hit home. I hated that my brother brought stuffed animals to my mother, then hated myself when I did it once.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Well John, this is top hat for you, extremely intriguing. You slam dunked me and when I realized I was in the car with all three of them, I understood it was your writing trick. I guess by know, you think I’m easy. Well, I am. Thanks for the write this week,

    2. Observer Tim

      Very nicely done, John. Either this woman really works at the institute, or she is the Sherlock Holmes of call girls. Either way would be a fascinating story. I love the interplay you built up between the characters, all of whom are memorable in their own way.

    3. dragonchef

      Okay – Where on earth did she come from? Her just showing up gave me the conspiracy-theorist heebee geebees! Mohave el Instituto? Not just a pretty picture in a brochure, I take it. This can go deep, my friend. Excitingly deep. Work it. Please take this to an unknown level. I’ll by the book.

  17. Observer Tim

    OVERHEARD IN THE CAR

    “So Karen, I guess you’re lucky we were passing by, right? I mean, what are the odds that a carload of fellow Versers would be going by that gas station?”

    “Versers? I don’t follow you, Terry.”

    “Well, ‘Versies’ is insulting. Anyway, I really love your costume; you look just like a Dark Empire Assassin Babe.”

    “I believe the correct term is ‘Fatalician’, not ‘Assassin Babe.’ The Fatalists’ Guild has a long and colourful history.”

    “Mostly red.”

    “Heh; I suppose you’re right about that, Andrew.”

    “Don’t you feel kind of exposed with that open panel on the chest?”

    “Not really, Stefan. It’s fully ray-shielded. As for physical attack, it serves to distract the men and make their attack points more… predictable.”

    “So what do you think of our costumes?”

    “I had to look twice to realize they were imitations. You three look so much like Freedom League officers that I considered killing you.”

    “Well, a lot of conventioners Cosplay. Dressing up like a favourite character helps you feel like the whole thing’s more real. But you must understand that, Karen; otherwise why dress up like an Assa –er– Fatalician?”

    “I’m not actually Karen Tillman; I’m Kyran Tlee-Mann, here to kill Joshua Carter’s grandfather and prevent his very existence.”

    “Ha-ha! Just like Episode 45!”

    “Not quite, Stefan; I intend to succeed.”

    “Isn’t that what the bad guys always say?”

    “I’m not a ‘bad guy’ Terry. The Empire provides stability, wealth and commerce to the galaxy.”

    “At the expense of freedom.”

    “Most people use freedom as an excuse to pander to their dark desires.”

    “Legate Emeralda, Episode 62. Except she used the word ‘satiate’ not ‘pander.'”

    “Way to go Andrew! Master of the obscure quote.”

    “She said ‘pander.’ That was just before Carter seduced her.”

    “He didn’t seduce her, he shot her with his stun laser! Just after the commercial break. Unless you’re talking about the draft script that never got filmed because the network vetoed it.”

    “Oh, yes, I suppose I was. And then he corrupted her morals…”

    “Showed her the true value of freedom. That’s why she married him. Jeez, Karen, were you even watching the third season?”

    “Apparently not. At least, I don’t remember it the same way you three do. But then, I’m just a humble working girl–”

    “-who was bred and raised to be a perfect killing machine. Episode 45 again; high five me, Andrew!”

    “You da man, Stefan! Are you okay, Karen? You look sad.”

    “I was not bred to kill; my family were scholars. I was kidnapped as a teen and forced to learn the Fatalician’s art.”

    “Nice backstory. Are you going to write a fanfic about it?”

    “Fanfic? I don’t follow you, Terry.”

    “You know, Fan Fiction; where amateur authors change a published story. Sometimes they last long after the original has been forgotten.”

    “Really? So I can change history simply by rewriting it? Maybe Ezekiel Carter won’t have to die today.”

    1. jhowe

      By golly, I think they reformed her. The pure dialog worked well with this. I could picture the carload of conventioneers in full costume. I loved the part with the open panel in the chest and the predictable attack points.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I have no idea what was going on but my head hurt because I couldn’t be there, John threw me out and took the last seat himself. He’s just a meanie, he is by golly.

        1. Observer Tim

          Worry not, friend Kerry; this was distilled together from the kind of conversations Star Trek geeks have when left unattended, though among my gang we usually used the titles of the episodes rather than the numbers. Of course, this isn’t Trek, it’s more of a Buck Rogers style show that I invented myself…

          All you have to do is stare into the – uh, predictable attack points – through the little window in her costume. I’m sure everything will become clear.

          1. dragonchef

            Nicely put. Tim. Great story. If you haven’t or aren’t doing this already, you should really write the entire script and put it out there. Never know . . .

            I couldn’t tell if she were a real fatalician with a REAL mission or merely in-character for the cosplay. The back story really threw me – and hooked me.

            Bring this story forward, Tim. It has some serious potential.

      2. Observer Tim

        Thanks, Reatha. You were obviously standing in the center of the zone where I was aiming. I could so picture Sigourney Weaver playing Karen…

        I miss those days; nowadays when my friends and I get together and discuss the old TV shows, it becomes bitter.

          1. Observer Tim

            I’m not sure about Fringe; I couldn’t make it through the first episode. My moniker dates back to 1995 or thereabouts and I deemed myself (with nods and winks to quantum mechanics and H.P. Lovecraft) an “outside observer”.

            I have the exact opposite of a shaved head…

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hi, OT!

      This was hilarious. So many great lines. Especially this one -> “You three look so much like Freedom League officers that I considered killing you.”

      And maybe it’s just the name, but I was imagining Karen to look like Amy Pond from Doctor Who and that just made me smile.

      1. Observer Tim

        Thanks Cosi; I was aiming for “slightly angry femme fatale”, so Amy pretty much hits the nail.

        Karen Gillan is a fantastic actress with an overall look that warms my heart; I especially love the range of emotions and situations that she acts to, and the fact that she never seems to be the flower on the edge of the room.

        P.S. I just found a reason to watch the new Jumanji movie when it comes out. People are talking about the cheesecake nature of the image, but I can see her attitude and strength even in the still.

      1. Observer Tim

        Thanks, Joey; Ezekiel Carter has to die today because his grandson Joshua Carter is one of those unstoppable space heroes. Kyran Tlee-Mann has come back in time to kill him in a classic grandfather paradox; or is Karen Tillman playing her part in a “harmless” game? This one is already worming its way into that recess of my brain where ideas I can’t quite forget lie in wait for another chance to escape.

  18. igonzales81

    We met the lady at a lonely gas station, somewhere along Route 66, in the secretive vastness of the Appalachians. I pulled the car up to the pump, climbed out to stretch my legs, and there she was, standing about twenty feet away, just staring at us.

    Maybe it was the ’59 Cadillac Series 62 painted in color-shifting neon pink, or the Derby hats and Callahan three piece suits, or maybe the fact that Strong was filtering our gas through an old sock, but the lady didn’t seem to be able to look away.

    “’Morning, miss,” I said, all gentlemanly. “Is there something I can be helping you with?”

    I assumed she was looking right at me, but she wore very dark glasses, which, along with the severe black pantsuit, made her seem suspicious to me. Or perhaps it was the briefcase affixed to her wrist by a pair of handcuffs.

    “Where are you headed?” she asked, in tones so clipped I wondered that my ears weren’t nicked.

    “Why do you care?” Strong said, drawing himself up to his full five-foot-two height and crossing his burly arms, glaring fiercely with his jaw all thrust out in a way that made him look like a constipated pit bull.

    Micah leaned out the car window, brushing his lank, pale hair away from his eyes and trotting out a smile that showed sharp teeth. “Maybe she wants a ride, boys.”

    “You don’t want to come with us,” Strong slammed the hose back into the pump.

    “I think she should come with us,” Micah said, still smiling.

    “Sorry, miss, for my mates. They’re barely civil in the best of times.” And two hundred years cooped up in a primitive land vehicle had done their dispositions no favors. “Is there aught we can do for you?”

    One eyebrow arched above her dark sunglasses. “That depends on where you’re headed.”

    “Well,” I said, feeling the first stirring of annoyance. “Ultimately, we plan to end up in New York.” No need to tell her when or where; I’m sure that travelling through time to accrue favorable stock options was some sort of crime, and this lady fairly reeked of draconian authority. “But by which route we go is… flexible.”

    “Very well, you can give me a lift,” she strode forward with the air of someone who believed our cooperation was a foregone conclusion. “I need to get to D.C., the Pentagon, and I don’t have time to waste.” She walked around the car, slipped past a glowering Strong, and folded her narrow frame into the passenger seat.

    I resumed my place behind the wheel, annoyance giving way to bemusement. Providing this person with conveyance promised to prove diverting, and I was always game for that. “We can do that,” I said, nodding for Strong to get in the back, which he did with no small amount of grumbling. “I must warn you though to never do anything Strong tells you, and don’t kiss Micah, however enticing the thought may become.”

    She just stared at me, face like a carved block of marble.

    “Now, if you don’t mind my asking, what is it that takes you to the capital?” I asked as I fired up the engine.

    Her hand moved, ever so slightly, to the briefcase in her lap. “Let’s just say it has something to do with a handoff.”

    “Fair enough,” I grinned. “Then we’re gone.”

    1. Kerry Charlton

      I liked this a lot, especially the comfortable writing that never gets in the way of a good story. Time travel and a spooky mistress is kind of sad to leave. Would you consider a part two and ease the thoughts running thru my brain. Is she evil, working a case or a high priced couriour with a deadly mission?

    2. cosi van tutte

      Hi, igonzales!

      Just so you know, I would gladly read more of this. 🙂

      “I must warn you though to never do anything Strong tells you, and don’t kiss Micah, however enticing the thought may become.” Hmm. Why do I have a feeling that both of these warnings will get disregarded by tough Pentagon chick?

    3. jhowe

      This sounds like the beginning of a TV series when the female star meets her travel mates. There’re so many ways this can go, which is what a good series needs. I enjoyed this a lot. Great job.

    4. dragonchef

      For some reason, a not-so-distant-futuristic Clockwork Orange comes to mind.
      IG81: I think we could all stand a bit more of this to see where it’s going. I sense if the marble-faced lady ends up doing either or both of the warned suggestions, unbeknownst to the three derby boys it will because they will ultimately be doing exactly what she wants. So many possibilities here. So many avenues.

  19. Kerry Charlton

    THE GIRL

    Well, I reckoned it was summer of sixty seven when R. B., Bobby Paul and I left
    Tupelo after we was graduated from high school and drove west on a road trip. We had a full tank in my ’52 Ford custom coupe and headed down the highway with some of Bobby Paul’s college money.

    “It ain’t enough,” Bobby Paul whined, “to get to Californey anyway, why’s we goin‘?”

    “Adventure ” I said, “and don’t forget the women we gonna run into.”

    “Bosh Charlie,” Y’all taking me for a fool you is, I swear, and R. B. agrees with me.”

    He ain’t got no cause to agree, Bobby Paul. After cotton crop we both gonna give the money back. You got no cause to not trust your best friends.”

    “Sorry Charlie, I’d always trust you. You see that road sign saying Money, Miss? Stop off at a station, I needa take a leak.”

    Charlie’s Ford pulled in a Texaco in Money, he stretched his legs while R. B. and Billy Paul was busy. He noticed a girl sitting in the dust, an attractive girl with long black hair, a face streaked with tears and he walked over,

    “Need some help miss or a shoulder?”

    “Go away, can’t you see I-sa crying hard?”

    “I didn’t mean nothin‘, sorry to bother you.”

    He turned to walk away but the girl stopped him.

    “Don‘t you see, I ain’t used to no kindness?”

    “I’m sorry,” Charlie said, “you need to get out of the dust, there’s a bench under the old elm. Would you like to talk there?”

    He offered his hand, pulled her up from the dirt and gravel and walked her over and sat down with her,

    “You are kind but there’s nothin’ you can do to help me.”

    “I‘m Charlie and I got a good ear.”

    “My papa named me “Girl, can you believe?”

    “That’s mean all right. Why you cryin’?

    “Cause I lost Billy Joe.”

    “You broke up, a pretty girl like you?”

    “No, he jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge and drowned.

    “Gosh, I’m sorry for you.”

    “Mama said. The preacher saw me and Billy Joe throw somethin’ off the Tallahatchie bridge one moonlit night. Then brother up and married and moved to Tupelo and opened a store.”

    “What about your Papa, what’d he say.?”

    “Not a word, he didn’t care, caught a virus and died this spring. Mama don’t care
    about anything no more and we don’t get along anyway.

    “Should I call you Girl?”

    “Might as well.”

    “Well Girl, we heard about Billy Joe MacAllister jumping off the Tallahatchie bridge last year, and if you pardon me, I do care about you, for I know nothin’ good comes from Choctaw Ridge.

    “You care? Why, no one else does.”

    “Well it ain’t Christian not to care, so I do.”

    “R. B. and Bobby Paul walked up,

    “We need to get goin’ Charlie.“

    “Take my car guys, have a good time, I’m busy this summer, I’m taking this Girl back to Tupelo.”

    “Why you doin’ it, Charlie?”

    “Well Bobby Paul, maybe somethin’ good gonna come from Choctaw Ridge. It’d
    be about time wouldn’t it Girl?”

    :

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you igonzales81. I’m happy it brought back memories for you. There is something else in this story, there are many clues as to what it is. Let’s see who discovers it, if any. If no one does, the secret stays with the story. No other clues will be given.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Fun story. I recently read a Bobby Gentry update on one of those Where Are They Now sites. Trying to identify Charlie. Recall she was married to Jim Stafford.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Reatha, she was a yummmy yum yum when I saw her and Glen Campbell in ’68 or ’69. You would have been proud, I didn’t make a fool out of myself. { But I wanted to, my new bride wouldb’t hear of it.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Well, I got to see her in person in ’68, what a beautiful girl. I posted a photo of her in ’67 walking across the bridge, what a body also. See blog [kerrybcharlton.blogspot.com] I never met her Capitol Records didn’t throw a party for her, Those cheap &$^^#%U&U! I’m glad you enjoyed this, I had fun trying to blend in my story with the lyrics.

    2. Observer Tim

      Shame about Billy Joe anyhow.

      This is beautiful, Kerry, and a fitting tribute to the song. You did a great job using the dialect to tell the story of that very touching song. I love the way you captured the sense behind the song as well as the events in it.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Tim, I wrote this for you because I knew you’d like it. Interesting thing about the song. It was to be the flip side of another song. “Ode” was over seven minutes long and would never get airplay, so Capitol dumped half the lyrics. That’s why there’s so many questions about the song. It’s in the top 300 songs ever recorded, not bad for a first record. See my blog [kerrybcharlton.blogspot.com] There’s a photo of Bobbie walking across the bridge in 1967. WOW!.

    3. dragonchef

      Mississippi. A beautiful and haunting place. The back roads are full of stories. George Francis Barnes Jr. (Machine Gun Kelley) was one such – stupidest bank robber/kidnapper if ever there was one. Just couldn’t get his life right, in any direction. But I digress.
      KC – I know this is taken from a song, but there is a haunting there, one that could be expanded on for either good or ill, whichever your fancy follows. Something thrown off the bridge? A gun perhaps? Maybe Billy Joe MacAllister and Girl were gangster wannabees and BJ couldn’t quite get over the murder. Maybe Billy Joe didn’t jump. Girl didn’t want him to come clean on what they did.
      Thanks for the imagination avenues.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        You’re welcome dragonchef! I leave stories at crossroads in case I want to come back to them. My personal opinion and a lot of others thought so when the song came out, it was an aborted baby, he threw off the bridge. The time frame of the story was probably the middle fifties, even though Bobbie Gentry wrote it in 1967. Capitol records deleted half her lyrics because the song ran seven minutes and would never get airplay at the time.

        They asked Bobbie hundreds of times what it was but she refused to answer. In person, the girl was breath-taking. See my blog [kerrybcharlton.blogspot.com]

  20. Pete

    Mark hit the gas and let gravity pull the van down the hill, getting familiar with the play in the wheel. The engine was missing something terrible. He glanced over at the girl, who’d picked him up and asked him to drive. Now she sat in the passenger seat, running a trembling hand through her hair.

    “He’s not doing great.”

    Mark stole a glance in the rearview and saw a new shade of pale. The life was draining right out of the guy in the back. A glaze of misery. The girl bit her lip. “Yeah, I think it was a copperhead, she said, turning around. “Oh crap!”

    She dove into the back and Mark nearly drove off the mountain. He peeked around and saw her on top of the man. He swerved to stay on the road, vowing never to hitch again when the girl popped up from the struggle to hand him a gun.

    “Here.”

    Mark looked down to find a pistol in his lap. One on the dash. The girl thrust herself back into battle, cursing and wrestling. Mark gripped the wheel, shouting over his shoulder. “May I ask how many guns are in this van?”

    “This should be it,” she said, back now, snatching the one from his lap. She emptied the bullets with an experienced flip of the cartridge. Tossed her hair back with a jerk of her head. Mark couldn‘t help a double take. All she was missing was a cigarette dangling from her lips.

    Approximately thirty minutes ago, he was hitching, after running out of gas while taking the scenic route home. Now, a man lay in dying in the back, sounding and looking exactly like a late round Rocky Balboa while the girl beside him juggled pistols as they fled the state line.

    “Chris, please baby.” The man in the back sputtered.

    Mark, in a shaky whisper. “Your name’s Chris?” She didn’t respond. She didn’t even blink, just held the gun. “Chris?” he repeated.

    Huh?” The girl looked at him. She was pretty, considering. Maybe twenty-one, or sixteen for all he knew. It was hard to tell if she needed a hug or a curfew. She bounced back.

    “Oh, yeah. Sorry.” She nodded to the back. “That’s Kyle,” she said. After introductions, she popped open the glove and set the revolver and pistol in the glove compartment, tossing in the clip and sounding sincere when she said, “We don’t want to have an accident.”

    “Well, no.”

    She pointed ahead. “I think we can get off on 59 and get to Timbrook. Maybe they have one of those Medic First patient centers.”

    Kyle mumbled, choking on his slobber. Mark caught a look at his face and grimaced. “Do they have um…serum?”

    “Anti-venom. I don’t know.” She glanced back. “Probably not.”

    “Is he…are you two?”

    She chewed a nail, then turned to face Mark, sitting on her knees. “My ex, as of an hour ago. He’s got a couple of warrants.” She raised her voice to address the helpless slug in the back. “Probably should have thought about that before you went all bitchcakes back there, huh?”

    “I’m….kill….you.”

    She climbed up on the seat, taunting him now. “Huh, huh, you couldn’t tear a piece of bread in half. Should we stop? Maybe just leave you here?”

    Mark wiped his face. His foot suggesting the van go faster, the van balking.

    “I’ve never seen anyone with a snake bite.”

    Chris turned, fell into her seat. Her voice going soft with concern. “He’ll be okay. Unless of course he’s having an allergic reaction.”

    Mark fought the van to a grind as they drifted to the exit, gunned it for Timbrook. “So do you…?”

    “Have any warrants? No. I should, for staying with him. Why, are you asking me out?”

    1. jhowe

      Now that was a ride to remember. I get the feeling Chris and Mark shouldn’t accompany Kyle into the medical facility. Best they just drop him and keep driving. Very nice use of dialog. It kept the story going very well.

    2. Observer Tim

      This is a view into a world I neither inhabit nor visit often; the effect is truly a strange one, Pete. You did a great job capturing the characters of Chris and Mark; I’m not sure if I hope Kyle pulls through or not… The whole effect is enjoyable in a disconcerting way.

  21. cjmurphy1982

    Al and Lexi were at it again last night, how they think I can’t here is crazy. Damn you Lexi Shanklin, you broke my heart and you shouldn’t even be here. She’ll never pass the audition, no matter how much she looks like Megan Fox.

    We’ll be in Chicago within three days if we cut out all the ‘let’s just have a beer here’ stops. Al is obsessed with run down bars that you find on the edge of town, some form of nostalgia, derived from watching old movies with his mom on Sunday afternoons. But this ain’t the movies Al and you ain’t Clint Eastwood.

    We’re near empty so I pull into a gas station. Thankfully there’s a modern looking diner. Ramshackle may look cool but I prefer clean toilets. I fill the car and pay for the gas. As they sleep I order a coffee with pancakes and ice cream.

    The waitress is a fading high school beauty queen with a nice figure, ridiculous breasts and thick lips smothered in red lipstick. The girl on the next table is nursing a glass of tap water. She’s about my age, scruffy looking but cute.

    When my order arrives I beckon the waitress to come closer ‘what’s the deal with her’. She looks at me, weighs me up and, after a moments pause, decides to share. She leans in even closer, her cleavage now inches from my face, the combination of husky voice and strong perfume is intoxicating and I momentarily loose myself. She pauses, savouring the effect she still has on a young guy ‘she’s running honey, I don’t know where or why but she’s broke and needs help’. With that she pulls away, I snap out of her spell, quickly gather my thoughts. ‘The same again for my friend here’ I gesture to the cutey and smile warmly as she eyes me suspiciously.

    ‘Can’t live just on water’. Cutey doesn’t want to accept the food but is real hungry and can’t turn it down. ‘Where ya headin?’ I do my best to sound nonchalant but she knows my game. She eats, drinks and keeps quiet. Given her hunger we finish up around the same time. ‘Look, I’m going to the bathroom, then I’m getting into that jeep with Alex and Lexi and we’re going to drive to Chicago. There’s four seats and three people.’

    Al and Lexi awake as Cutey slams her door shut. There’s some confusion and then introductions, everyone is being very young, cool and feigning disinterest. Am pleased to see Lexi looks put out and Al is jealous.

    Al and I take turns behind the wheel. The day is uneventful. Simone (cutey) and Lexi seem to strike up quite a nice amity, cutey was a child model (about the only detail she shares all day). At night we check-in to a motel. I book Al and Lexi a room, then get my own. They look shocked when I hand over their key but at least now we all know that we know.

    Cutey spends an eternity in the bath. ‘Been a while?’ She ignores my question, asking what we should do for food – that’s ‘food’ not dinner. I joke that I’ll really treat her and get a KFC, not really a joke, as the money from dad is running out and the pancake stunt was actually a bit stupid. We eat, then sleep in separate beds, although Simone does kiss me goodnight on the cheek, its strangely intimate and I feel closer to her than I have anyone in a long time.

    The rest of the trip follows a similar pattern, Al and I drive, the girls make small talk with occasional bouts of giggling.

    When we arrive in Chicago its clear that a distance has grown between the three of us and we agree to find separate hotels. I wish them look at the audition and agree to meet afterwards. I ask Simone what she wants to do now. She wants to sign up and audition too, if that’s ok. We head to the theatre and the arrangements are made.

    Simone and I are accepted, Al and Lexi fail. I was in the theatre when Al performed, he was terrible. Worrying too much about Lexi’s lack of ability. I should tell him not to waste his talent, that Lexi will always have some shmuck worrying about her but I’m still angry with him and withholding my wisdom is the only weapon I have.

    Al buys my half of the car and starts the long journey back to nowheresville with Lexi. Simone and I use the car money to celebrate. I treat her to a proper dinner and she kisses my properly for the first time, I almost explode with happiness. I’m in love.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is a great tale, CJMurphy; it reads like chapter one of a memoir about how someone made it big in show business. A portion of me wants to know more about these characters, while the rest thinks the story is complete as is.

  22. ReathaThomasOakley

    Another hitchhiker

    Dee glanced at her husband’s profile, silhouetted against the dark sky. His hands, ghost white in the dim dash lights, were clinched on the steering wheel, tighter and tighter since Hardin.

    Hardin, the worse part of this long trip, she thought. Who’d have thought six months ago I’d be here, middle of the night, married to a man I didn’t even know back then.

    Dee leaned her forehead against the cold glass while the silence seemed to build around her, solid as if a third passenger had joined them in the 1955 Dodge, a classic Rob said, taking them from Florida to Montana.

    Six months ago her life had seemed almost perfect, her plan to teach high school English on track with classes at the junior college, family, friends, a part-time cashier’s job at Woolworth’s. Woolworth’s, where it all began, she thought.

    The girls were used to sailor boys on Saturday afternoons, swaggering through, buying aftershave and cigarettes, candy and popcorn, flirting while they paid.

    “So,” he’d asked, “you ever go to the USO dances? Heard they’re lotta fun.”

    “No, sir,” Dee counted out his change. “I stay pretty busy.”

    “Your Saturday nights all booked up?”

    “No, sir. I mainly study or get things ready for next morning. I teach a Sunday School class.”

    “Study? You go to college?” When she’d nodded, he’d started telling her his plans for an engineering degree, soon as he was out of the Navy, he talked until his buddies behind him started teasing and pushing him on through the line. Dee hadn’t been surprised when he was back an hour later with one pack of Juicy Fruit.

    “My sister teaches Sunday School,” he’d said.

    One sentence, Dee now thought, five words and I’m in Montana.

    The wedding’d been small, family, her cousin Joyce had stood up with her, a Navy buddy as best man, a few friends, but in the church, her mother’d insisted. Her father refused to give her away, but he did show up.

    In the motel in Valdosta, she’d taken her nightgown and robe, a peignoir the aunts who’d made it called it, into the bathroom, but hadn’t worn the white, lacy robe.

    Now, four days later, she’d been in places she’d only read about, saw miles of wheat moving in the wind like a golden version of her beloved Atlantic, miles of Rob saying less and less, of becoming colder as the weather temperature dropped.

    At the service station in Hardin she’d wanted to get out, but he’d said to wait. She’d watched as several men, some she realized were drunk, walked around the car, commenting on the Florida license plate, trying to look into the backseat, piled with wedding presents, some still wrapped.

    When Rob finally returned, he’d pushed through the men, opened the door, and threw a greasy bottomed bag at her.

    “Dinner,” he’d said as he started the car. That was fifteen minutes ago, the bag was still unopened, on the floor, and the silence had grown.

    Dee was surprised as he slowed, then reached over, and touched her arm.

    “You asleep?”

    “No, just thinking.”

    “Yeah,” he gave a little laugh. “Me, too. Just didn’t want you to be asleep.” He drove a bit faster. “Right over this next rise…”

    Dee sat up straighter. Then, as Rob stopped the car in the middle of the deserted road, she saw, in the valley below, lights stretching right and left as far as she could see. She gasped in spite of herself. Each light represented a house, a street light, a traffic signal, people, churches, schools.

    “That’s Billings,” Rob said, “your new home.”

    As the silence seemed to diminish around her, Dee felt a tiny movement, just a twinge, high in her belly.

    “Rob,” she whispered, almost afraid to speak aloud. “If the baby is a girl, can we name her Hope?”

    1. Observer Tim

      Wow. This is a wonderful slice of life, and a great look into the past. My parents made a similar drive on their honeymoon (in 1957, Mister and Mrs-pregnant Smith). Hopefully this couple’s story turns out as well. 🙂

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thanks, Tim. This was a while after ’57, but the long drive and the promise of the lights were real, just not the Hope part. Glad your parents story turned out well.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Well, she has a lot not going for her but somehow with the last sentence, it might be around the corner. I keep thinking I’m going to get used to your spellbound way of writing but then I fall in over again. Just don’t try to sell me something, for I may buy it unseen. Great atmasphere in this as well as the ray of hope.

    2. JosephFazzone

      What an amazing tale. I love love the “One sentence, Dee now thought, five words and I’m in Montana.” Wow. I just felt like I could see everything, like I was sitting in the car with them. I have hope, for Hope. Beautiful story!!!

    3. dragonchef

      Really nice “new beginnings . . . of a sort” story Reatha.

      Woolworth’s – fond memories of bygone years sitting at the soda fountain eyeing the pretty lady behind the counter, trying desperately to muster up a few intelligent words to impress her, only to drop thirty-five cents on the counter and head for the toy isles.

      Rob: A bit of a Jekyll/Hyde, isn’t he? How did he go from cold and distant to caring? Why was he such at the beginning? Because she was pregnant? The shotgun wedding? Leaving the Navy? He hates driving at night?

      Rob_2: “That’s Billings,” Rob said, “your new home.” Your new home, not ours. Planning to leave? Going back to the Navy and leaving her there hundreds miles away from family support? Makes me want to shove the greasy dinner up . . . never mind.

      Super Nice: Dee leaned her forehead against the cold glass while the silence seemed to build around her, solid as if a third passenger had joined them –
      A bit of foreshadow here? Allusion to the third passenger not exactly in a seat of its own?

      Great imagery. Great emotion. Nicely done.

  23. cosi van tutte

    Fair warning: This one’s just a little weird and has nothing to do with any hitchhikers. My deepest apologies.

    ***

    “Three’s bad luck.” Hillarush shook her head. “Three’s very bad luck. You will fail in your undertakings. Three’s bad luck.”

    Nara refrained from screaming. “You’ve been saying that for the past three hours.”

    “Three’s very bad luck.”

    Gellara clutched the steering wheel. “We get it okay. Three = bad luck. Good. Can we move past that?”

    “You will fail in your undertakings. Three’s bad luck.”

    “Gellara, can’t you make her stop? Please! Make her stop before I throw her out my window.”

    “Then, you would be two. Two is okay luck. Four is best luck. Three is—”

    Nara couldn’t hold it in anymore. She screamed.

    “Nara! I swear if you two don’t stop, I’ll stop this car and throw both of you out.”

    “What? You hear her as well as I do.”

    “Three’s bad luck.”

    “She can’t help it. Her prior owner accidently installed a faulty programmer package.”

    “Yeah, but she’s making me sick. Can’t we just shut her down till we get to Idaho?”

    “No. You would still be three. Three is bad luck. Three is bad luck. You need more gas. Three is bad luck.”

    Gellara swore fiercely under her breath and swerved into the nearest gas station. “I’ll be right back. Don’t kill each other.” She got out of the car and walked into the station.

    “Yay. We are now two. Two is okay luck. Yay. We are two. Two. Two. Two.” She climbed into the front seat. “Yay. Yay. Yay.” She locked the front door. “We are two.”

    “What are you doing?”

    Hillarush looked back at her with a frozen smile. “We are two. Two is okay luck. Much better than three. Three is—” She turned the key in the ignition. “—very—” She stepped on the accelerator and zoomed away from the gas station. “—bad luck. But now we are two. Two is okay. Two. Two. Two. Two.”

    1. dragonchef

      Cosi. Cosi. Cosi!
      An autistic android. Who’d a thunk?
      So stinkin funny. I absolutely love this piece. The rictus grin at the end was a super nova image.
      Bride of Chucky-ish.
      Hat’s off.

  24. BookwormTunnel

    The sky was like dark, greenish mud, dotted by heavy clouds. The scent of incoming rain hung in the air, leaking into the open windows of the car. ” Storm a-coming,” Sidney called back from the driver’s seat. ” Mm-hm, I know, I think you should be finna to pull this here car over,” Sidney’s husband Jack said anxiously. ” John Parker, don’t you be worried bout’ a thing, it’ll be fine.” Their baby son Junior was oblivious to the coming storm, cooing and laughing. ” I think our Jr.’s excited bout’ visiting your folks too, Jack.” Rain began pouring down in earnest now. Jack reached up to shut the windows. Out of nowhere, lightning struck just in front of the car.

    Sidney, shocked, lost control of the car and began spinning on the road. She quickly, breathlessly uttered a prayer as the car circled into the grass. Finally, it stopped and she cried out, ” Thank the Lord, oh Lordy, I was so scared.” ” It’s okay now.” Jack placed a firm hand on his wife’s back. She glanced back at the baby. ” Thank the Lord we’re all fine. Even lil’ Junior.” Something rapped on the windshield sounding like a knock on a door. . ” Y’uns gonna let me in?” The voice sounded like a little girl’s, from Appalachia like them. ” Come on, let me in! How rude could ya be?” Sidney was immobile, her face paper white. Jack took charge opening the door for the little girl. She came in and promptly took a seat next to baby Junior. Sidney could finally speak. ” Where are you from? Where are your parents?” ” My parent’s ain’t nowhere. Used to be, I lived in Kentucky, by mountains, see. But then, my parent’s, they gone, and I try and try to find a car to take me in, see. Will you?” ” You want us to adopt you?” ” Sure do.”

    Jack and Sidney looked at each other.
    ” Maybe, child. Maybe.”

  25. Cogdis

    Surface Tension we called it.

    Quantum decoherence sounded too scientific, and we all hated science now. Hated the scientists. Best not to sound like one.

    “Say, twenty miles?” Kim estimated.

    “Shi’, who cares mah. We on the only road. Gonna see it sooner later.” Hace answered.

    The smoke on the horizon had been visible for an hour. Distance was hard to estimate in the desert. Lots of smoke in the world these days. Not in the desert though. That’s why we were here. To get away from the chaos of randomness blanketing the world.

    “F’uh’er’s chewed up ever’thang the world, now I’m gonna die in the desert for it.” Missan complained.

    “Stop negitavizing, fool. You gonna bring the inside-out on us.” Tamarra warned. Tamarra was superstitious about the Surface Tension breaking. Most people got superstitious. Being smart and logical is what started all this. Don’t want to be seen as smart and logical any more.

    “Twenty miles.” Kim reaffirmed.

    Supercollider alarm in the tabloids had always been about creating a black hole that would swallow the Earth. It was all harmless fun. Nobody really believed that humankind had the power to … .

    No one understood what they were doing, including, it turns out, the quantum scientists themselves. What we’ve learned since then is, that the membrane between dimensions is very thin, and very temperamental.

    Surface Tension is the interface between two mediums, such as water and air. It allows insects to walk on water, because their weight is not enough to break the high energy bond between water molecules where they meet air. However, once an insect breaks that surface tension, by moving too energetically perhaps, it will sink, unable to resurface, because of that same surface tension.

    When scientists in Europe created the hottest quark-gluon plasma ever achieved, they thought it was just another milestone in their understanding of the smallest scales. But what they really did was break the surface tension between our universe and the next. It turns out that at a certain temperature, about 120,000 times hotter than the interior of the sun, a cascade effect is achieved.

    Like bubbles in a bottle of shaken soda, the membrane between dimensions was randomly popping off all throughout the Earth and its surroundings. The local practical effect was one of being sucked into another dimension, and blown back into this dimension, like a girl playing with her bubble gum. Only when you came back, your molecules weren’t in the same order as when you left.

    And it was a very hot event.

    When it struck the locality of a person, we called it burnt sauce. Revolting to witness, but quick and merciful, as long as it fizzed directly on you.

    A teenage girl with a blank face stood out by the road in front of the burning gas pumps.
    “I hear its better in the Rockies. You going that way?” she asked numbly as they pulled up. Shock was the new normal.

    “Yeah, get in, babe.”

    1. Observer Tim

      I would love to see more in this setting, Cogdis. And don’t think I missed that your name is a perfect abbreviation for cognitive dissonance. That is showing here in spades, which creates the sort of slightly crazy world I happily live in. Nice job.

    2. edgewalker

      Ah, the old ‘Bubble-popping-hot-mess’ universe eh? Loved it… especially ‘Don’t want to be seen as smart and logical any more.’ Brilliant… but I’m a scifi nut anyway… Thanks for the ‘read’, well done /wink.

  26. UnclePizza

    Well, once again, I can’t quite bend this the prompt. This is it though – the last “chapter”!

    Of Sins and Ash: Part 16 – Fire

    The boy looked from the priest to the raven and her coyote pack, and back to the priest again. The coyotes were poised, ready to attack the priest, but for some reason they were not moving toward him. The priest also stood unmoving, his arm outstretched toward the raven while he pointed the strange object at her.

    For several long moments no creature moved and it seemed to the boy that they all, priest, raven, coyotes, and even himself, had become statues like the man on the crossed beams. Finally, his fear overwhelmed him and he crawled around the altar to hide behind the big bronze man-statue. His fear shamed him, for he had wanted to protect the old woman/raven/coyote, not hide.

    She sensed his fear and his shame just as she always sensed everything, and let him know that he was doing just as she wanted. Then she let him know how he was to help, and he understood now why he needed his voice.

    “She says that she forgives you,” the boy said, finally breaking the silence that gripped the stone church.

    The priest remained frozen in place, but the boy could hear the surprise in his voice as he asked, “How do you know this?”

    “She helps me know things,” the boy answered. “And she says that forgiveness can let life flourish in this land. That trying to rule through fear and death will destroy you, but there is still time for you also to learn to forgive.”

    “She’s a servant of Satan and she’s possessed you,” the priest said, his voice now beginning to tremble. “There is only one God, and only He can forgive. And he has damned this witch to the pits of hell for eternity!”

    “She says that she wishes you no harm,” the boy responded, surprising himself at how calm his own voice sounded now. “But she says that even your god must believe that you will reap what you sow. She pleads with you to sow forgiveness, not hate.”

    The priest stood rigidly in place, his arm now wavering. “What does she know of forgiveness?” he shouted. “She who has lived in this godless land? This witch, this blasphemer? God does not forgive those that bow to the devil’s evil will. Her forgiveness means nothing, for there is no harm that becomes her other than what she has brought unto herself.”

    The boy watched from his hiding place behind the statue as the coyotes began to move closer to the priest, the fur rising on their necks and saliva dripping from their bared fangs. “She says now that she is ready to cleanse you of your sins; that it will be her last act as she returns to whence she came.”

    The priest looked frantically around the church as the coyotes made their way up the aisles. Settling his gaze on the raven, he said, “I killed you once,” his voice raw with hatred. “Now go back to the hell from whence you came.”

    Suddenly a thunderous noise echoed inside the church. Smoke, fire, and the black pieces of metal billowed from the thing in the priest’s hand, knocking the raven from the candleholder, black feathers scattering through the air as she fell. The boy watched in shock as the dead bird turned back into the earth from which it was made, leaving only a small pile of dust on the smooth stone floor.

    Once the raven was gone, the coyotes stopped moving toward the priest and looked around in confusion. As they realized that they were inside a strange, closed space they began to panic and run chaotically through the church, bumping into each other as well as the walls and furnishings.

    The boy wanted to run to the raven but he felt weak and dizzy and his legs faltered. He lost his balance, and as he fell he reached out and grabbed the iron stand that held the statue, but it was not as steady as it seemed and the heavy statue toppled over along with him. Falling to the floor, the boy closed his eyes and braced himself against the coming blow of the statue, but the blow never came. Instead, he heard a crash and a scream as the head of the statue landed on the altar, breaking its fall and saving him from being crushed. The screams continued, and when the boy looked up he saw that the priest was trapped beneath the bronze man’s head, the metal thorns piercing his arm and pinning him to the wooden altar.

    The coyotes continued to run around the inside of the church, becoming more frantic as they searched for a way out. In the confusion, one of them knocked one of the large candleholders over onto the altar, and the molten wax spilled over the screaming priest. Soon, the priest was covered in flames, shrieking in agony as he struggled to free himself from the metal spikes that pinned his arm to the flaming altar.

    The molten wax carried the flames to the wooden benches and soon the fire was spreading though the entire church. The coyotes were truly panicked now, and would have perished in the flames themselves had the boy not run to the front of the church and howled loudly, calling his brothers and sisters to safety.

    Once the pack escaped to the street they frolicked with the boy as they welcomed him back into their fold. He lay on his back in the road, laughing at the starry sky as the pack alpha licked his face. Soon, the sound of villagers rushing to the church broke the joyous spell, and with the screams of the dying priest fading into the night, the boy and his pack ran toward the mesa.

    As he ran, the boy realized that for the first time in his life he could no longer hear the old woman’s voice guiding him. At first he missed her, but soon he realized that he now felt her spirit in his heart. And along with the lightness that her spirit brought, he also began to feel something else – a darkness made of fear and hate that weighed heavily upon him. The two spirits seemed to push at each other within him, and the boy was confused. He continued to run through the night, stopping only to howl at the sky as he sought to escape his confusion. At dawn, when the light sky met the dark, the boy came to understand that he must now learn to live peacefully with both spirits in his heart. Strangely, the thought was a comfort to the boy, and for the first time, he felt complete.

    1. UnclePizza

      Epilogue: Tomorrow

      The young woman slept past sunrise for the first time since leaving her pueblo. It felt odd, seeing the daylight as she opened her eyes, and she lay in bed for quite some time getting used to the feeling. Looking around the stone dwelling, the woman realized that she was in a strange place yet everything seemed surprisingly familiar. She vowed not to get out of bed until she understood what was happening, but eventually her bladder convinced her otherwise.

      As she walked toward the door, the woman noticed rows of small clay pots on shelves near the cooking area. She seemed to know what was in each one without looking, and even had ideas about what they could be used for. As she stepped outside to empty her bladder she had a dim memory of an old woman’s voice guiding her, teaching her, preparing her. But the voice was gone, and she could not quite conjure it up again.

      Back inside, the woman spent the morning cleaning the dwelling and arranging things. Some things she merely straightened and others she moved, for while this place may have once belonged to another, it was hers now.

      By afternoon she had collected water and begun to soak maize while she went out onto the mesa to forage for squash and herbs. Near evening she heard coyotes howling nearby, but she was not scared. They seemed to be coming closer, and soon she could even hear them rustling through the brush.

      As she returned to her dwelling the woman looked over her shoulder in time to see several coyotes running out from behind the pile of large boulders at the top of the rise across the arroyo. They were chasing a young boy, and to her surprise the boy stopped and turned, let out a loud bark, and tackled the closest coyote. The pair wrestled for a moment before noticing her, at which point they stopped suddenly and the boy stood, the coyotes by his side, tongues lolling as they panted from their rough play.

      The boy and the woman looked at each other in amusement before the boy turned and ran off laughing into the brush with the coyotes. As the woman walked back to her home she had one, last, faint memory of the old woman’s voice. It had come to her in the night, telling her that there would be ashes to collect from the church in the nearby village. Since it was late, she decided that she would go collect them in the morning, for she knew what to do with them now.

      ———————————————————
      The story in its entirety can be found here: https://unclepizza.wordpress.com/of-sins-and-ash/

        1. UnclePizza

          Thanks Reatha and OT! Now I’m set to take it from the beginning and try to make it five times longer. Then who knows…I may be looking for beta readers in a few months in which case you’ll be hearing from me!

          1. Kerry Charlton

            I.am proud of you Uncle for bringing such.a great piece of writing for you to.share with us. I.know how hard it is to maintain.a story.line week after week. The quality of your writing is quite amazing. We all thank.you for this.

  27. sridhar231

    Jesse was driving but was deeply engrossed. Sitting next to him was Bruce checking the map on his cell. Jim was in the back seat. Their mission was to take a sixty five year old man, Mathew Roberts to rural Virginia. They had decided what to do with him but were a little nervous about the execution of the plan.
    They left Manassas at four thirty AM. Matt, a 7-Eleven Clerk in Remington, started his shift at six. He had to be captured at his home before five thirty when he normally left for work. Jim almost spent a month gathering the details and was fully convinced that the plan would work. All they had to do was to overpower and take him to Syria, a forty minute drive from his place, but still within the Commonwealth of Virginia. They were also prepared in case he showed up with a gun. Bruce had his doubts as did Jesse but all there were more or less aligned.
    And, it worked just like they had planned. Matt didn’t bring his gun and the trio never had to use theirs. After sedating Matt, he was carried and placed in the trunk of Jesse’s Maxima. The entire process took less than three minutes. Bruce wanted to leave to avoid being sighted by the neighbors, but Jim and Jesse remained calm.
    “Bruce, relax,” Jim said.
    “Yes, we will leave in five. All this should be over in less than an hour,” Jesse added.
    “So, we know what to do, right?” Bruce asked.
    “Yes. Matt should be made to fully understand the reason why we are doing this. I will do the entire talking. He should be fully conscious when the plan gets executed.” Jesse sounded confident.
    They drove towards the other side of Syria and stopped near a structure that seemed to be a small church. Jim had chosen this location based on his earlier investigation. They got Matt out of the trunk. He was semi-conscious already and sounded aggressive, but couldn’t stand.
    “What do you want from me?” Matt asked from the floor of the church.
    “Mr. Roberts, you won’t remember us, but we are here for retribution,” Jesse opened up as he promised.
    Matt looked very confused.
    “Do you remember 1989?” Jesse continued.
    “What about it?”
    “It was the year when your daughter was brutally raped and murdered. The case was never solved and closed a couple of years back.”
    “Do you have the killer?” Matt’s rage showed up in his eyes.
    “Yes, we have.”
    Jesse glimpsed at the rest of his gang and after a pause, continued.
    “Mr. Roberts, we are the killers. We got lucky and were never caught, but time has caught up with us. I have three months left before my tumor takes me away. Jim has colon cancer and should be gone by the end of the year. Bruce’s wife and two daughters died in a fire accident couple of years ago. “
    Matt broke into tears as Jesse spoke. He wanted to say something but was unable to.
    “We met and decided to do the right thing. All three of us have hand-written this letter confessing to the crime and we will leave this in our car. Now, here is the gun and your pair of gloves. This gun should have our fingerprints. Please take them and do the right thing.”
    Mr. Roberts trembled a little when he took the Glock 19 and the gloves from Jesse.

    1. Observer Tim

      Yikes! This is a powerful social turnabout, Sridhar. Part of me thinks of how nice the gesture was, while the other says that they were content to make the old man suffer for a quarter-century (assuming present day) and only give him peace when they have nothing left to lose. It’s a powerful tale and makes me think.

  28. UnclePizza

    OK, this is a bit odd, and I’m not sure I’m crazy for it but it’s what came out. I don’t know why I had a hard time with the prompt this week since it seems like such a good one.

    The Journey

    We spread blankets on the ground beneath the wings and slept in our clothes. Daybreak roused us early, and the three of us began the long hike toward the refueling pond, slowly chewing our dried rations as we walked. Along the way we encountered one of the natives who offered to guide us in exchange for one of our circuit boards. We agreed, and as it happened we had enough spares that we gave him a second in exchange for some edibles.

    The trip inward was marked by gravity sinks and time folds, yet with the help of our guide we managed to remain together. Shortly past the midpoint we realized that the languages were changing along with the geography and he helped us make adjustments as needed.

    After four days we arrived at the pond and joined with the villagers who were eager to dance with us. The fuel cells took nearly a decade to fully charge, but the time finally came for the villagers to bid us farewell and we began the return trip to our craft.

    Our guide had become our brother by then, and although he knew his horses would grow old without him, he joined us without question. When we reached the plains we found our craft as we left it and replaced the fuel cells in the dying light. We spent he last night as we did the first, sleeping under the wings and listening to the sky beckon before waking to complete our travels.

    We had each lost something to the journey – for one it was dignity, for another it was sanity, but for our new brother it was nothing more than innocence. For me it was patience. I returned as I had departed, searching impulsively for my future, uncertain whether it would ever arrive.

    1. igonzales81

      That was very different than what first came to my mind when I read the prompt, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Very original and imaginative. Great story.

    2. Observer Tim

      I’ll add yet another voice; I was left with the impression of a group of NASA surveyor robots (think Opportunity) traveling the universe like cosmic hippies. Sort of a “Me and Bobby McGee” for the robotic set. I think “odd” is the perfect descriptor, Uncle, but add “enjoyable” as well.

  29. Iodine

    The trip was a long one, but it was relief to be taking it. They’d all been waiting for months to save up enough to go on this trip to the mountains. There were three of them: Matthew, Sam, and Jasmine. They had been roommates in college, and had gotten along so well that they had decided to move in until they could each get jobs that paid enough for them to live alone. Live had been very busy for all of them. Matthew was in the process of learning photography, though he had a job at a music studio near their home; Sam was trying to learn how to paint, while working at a Walmart about a 15 minute walk from where they lived; and Jasmine was attempting to learn how to sing, play the guitar, and program all at the same time, along with working at a local bakery. They could all use a break, and they’d spent a long time saving up for it. For once, they would be completely alone, able to work on whatever they wanted without work and possibly each other getting in the way. They had agreed that although Matthew got the most and would therefore be able to save up more faster, they would use a joint account to keep track of the money. For 7 months, they’d stopped eating out (living mostly on ramen noodles instead), and pretty much just gotten the bare necessities (they’d even stopped buying paper towels, which having to do laundry more often, and nobody wanted to do that!). It’d been oh-so-hard (they all knew they were being dramatic, but it felt good to complain and tease each other about it.). Their vacation was only going to be 2 weeks! The upside was that they would be staying in separate houses, and would be free to do whatever they wanted. They’d made sure that there was at least 3,000 extra dollars in their ‘vacation’ account, so they could spurge all they wanted. The idea came as a relief to all of them, and well worth their ‘struggles’ and the 24 hour long drive ahead of them. The drive seemed to be taking a lot longer because somebody (Matthew) kept stopping so that he could go to the ‘bathroom’ (Sam and Jasmine thought that he was actually sneaking off to take some pictures.) and all of them were more than ready for their ‘2 weeks in heaven’ ( Sam kept calling it that to tease the two of them, but both Jasmine and Matthew had to admit that the prospect was rather heavenly.) They were taking turns driving, and when they came across ‘him’ (They never did find out his name), Jasmine was the one at the wheel. It was already hour 6 of her driving, and she was getting tired quickly (Perhaps dividing each turn into 7 hours hadn’t been such a good idea, after all). They were out on open road, and she couldn’t see another car for miles, and there didn’t seem to be anything ahead of her. With nothing to focus her attention on, she began to doze out (both Matt and Sam had fallen asleep, so they were no help). Somehow, Jasmine managed to wake herself up just as she hit him. “Oh my God!” In record time, she stopped the car and ran out. Her heart was pounding hard. What if she had killed him? There went their vacation money (she felt awful afterwards for thinking such a cold hearted thought). Her shout had caused the others to rouse, though they reacted slower than her, as they hadn’t seen what had happened and had been asleep longer. Matthew got out of the car, leaving the door open behind him for Sam. “What happened?” Matt went over to Jasmine, where she was hunched over the still body of the guy she had hit. When Matthew saw the body, he froze, and visible fear crept into his eyes. “Is he dead?” His voice was hushed. Sam dragged his feet as he followed just seconds behind Matthew. He seemed too tired to really understand what was going on (he’d been too nervous about the vacation to sleep much the night before), so his response to the body was slower. His eyes got wide and he silently stared at the body. He couldn’t believe that someone had been out this late, in the dark. The man wasn’t wearing anything reflective, and there was no way anyone could have seen him, so it wasn’t at all Jasmine’s fault. Even if her eyes had been opened, she wouldn’t have been able to respond quickly enough not to hit him. Jasmine couldn’t seem to see that in her emotional state. She was feeling all over the man’s pulse points, and over his lips and nose, but he wasn’t breathing and she couldn’t find a pulse. She was beginning to panic. “I think he is!” Her voice was high with stress. “What do we do?” Sam was breathless. “If we call the police, we’ll go to jail!” Matthew crossed his arms, silently looking the situation over. What was there for them to do? “We’ll take him with us. Maybe he’s just knocked out really well or something?” Sam and Jasmine didn’t want to go to jail, and this trip was really important to them… They agreed after several seconds of hesitation. The three of them struggled to get the man into the car, situating him as if he was sleeping. It only took a few minutes, but it sure felt like a lot longer to them. The guilt of what they were possibly doing was hanging high over their heads. The next few hours were silent, all of them apprehensive about what would happen if he didn’t regain consciousness soon. Inside, they all knew that he was dead (this made the trip feel a lot creeper than it had been before), though they were too scared to get help. Finally, after another four hours had passed, they all agreed to go to some kind of hospital to see how he was doing. This man’s life was more important than their money (the guilt for having denied this for so long was killing them inside. They could be the reason for this man’s death, and delaying it could be the thing that had lost any chance at all to save his life.) It was a half a hour detour to the nearest hospital. The ride there was silent, with all of them wondering if he could be saved. When they got to the hospital, Sam and Jasmine gathered the man into their arms and ran into the hospital, Matthew right behind them. “This man needs help!” He shouted out. Nurses rushed to help. Jasmine and Sam looked down as they handed the body over, and froze. Matthew was now the one in their arms, limp and smelling as if he had been dead for several hours. Their hearts stopped as the nurses took Matthew and headed deeper into the hospital to help Matt as best they could. Jasmine felt on the edge of tears, but confused. Sam seemed to shut down, moving to sit down. Within twenty minutes, a doctor came out to give them the bad news of Matthew’s death. Both of them were too shocked to react as they normally would. They thanked the doctor and left. Sam broke down as they walked to the car, and Jasmine just quietly cried.The moment they were back in the car, Matthew got in. “Sorry, I had to go to the bathroom. Was he dead?”

    1. Observer Tim

      This reads lengthy and a bit confusing; paragraph breaks would have helped. That said, putting the whole story in one long stream enhances the surreal nature of the piece, which is right up my alley. The tale is captivating and reads like college roommates on a road trip, but with a short detour through the Twilight Zone. All in all the effect is satisfying.

  30. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    The Lonely Road

    The desert seems more baron in this area than in the previous. Jack is in the back seat looking out at the ocean of sand passing by at speed, my wife sits passenger, silent as well.

    It wasn’t always like this. We all used to be a family of chatty best friends. My son would be bouncing around in his safety seat, and my wife would turn around and play along with him. My daughter would be humming in the back seat to some tune she found on YouTube. It was always perfect.

    Not everything lasts forever. Not traditions and certainly not life. Not long after her fifth birthday, the doctors diagnosed Liliana with lung cancer. Within a year, she passed away.

    Although any type of cancer can attack anyone, my daughter’s lung disease wasn’t abnormal. Well, it was, but it wasn’t just a random occurrence of cancer. It resulted from my smoking habit. I never gave a second thought as to how dangerous it could be to smoke in the car with my children in the back seat, even with the windows open. My stupidity was my daughters end.

    My wife, Kelly, looks at me and then at the gauge cluster. She says, “You better fill up before we get stranded out here.”

    She’s right. Plus, I’m incredibly tired. I need to get something to wake me up if I plan to drive through the night. So, I nod in agreement, and she doesn’t say anything further. We aren’t a catty couple. She doesn’t nag and I don’t pick fights.

    Ahead, the road appears fluid, a river through this Egyptian-like desert. To the right of the lemon-lime horizon is a small gas station. The giant sign twisting languidly at the top of a long pole had once presented the name of the station. Years of weather and neglect caused one side to break apart and reveal the lamps inside. The other still had the name, but it had faded to a light pink logo that I couldn’t read.

    Pulling into the station, we transition from tarmac to gravel. Small pebbles kick up and tick inside the wheel well. I stop at the first pump on the right, and the hot desert wind carries a cloud of dust past us. For a moment, it twists into a dirt devil, and then dissipates as quickly as it appeared.

    “I’ll be right back,” I tell them. They know I’m coming back, but I feel like I have to say something. I want to interact with them because we all need it. Silence is a killer. Perhaps it won’t actually kill anyone, but it will destroy relationship, and I needed to break that silence to make sure that they’ll be okay while I’m gone. To let them know that I’m here for them, and that I will always return.

    The inside of the station is much cleaner than the outside. A quick glance through the door behind the attendant reveals that he lives here. My guess is that he originally didn’t want to drive every day, so when he bought this station, he decided to move into it.

    “Twenty, please,” I say as I hand him a fifty note. “Can I also get one of those energy drinks in the cold case back there?”

    “Yes, sir,” the man replies.

    As I wait for him to start the pump and make change, I walk back and grab one of the cherry flavored drinks. Returning, I spy something to my left. My eyes dart over there, but I see nothing more than a rack full of flavored jerky.

    I thought it was my daughter. This isn’t unusual, though. I’m used to keeping an eye on her in my peripheral, as one must do with children of any age with so many creeps in this world. Even now that she’s gone, I still see her everywhere.

    “Son, are you okay?”

    I meet the old man’s lazy blue eyes, and smile weak and thin. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

    With my change and drink in hand, I return to the car and start pumping the fuel. As the LED screen indicates that I’m nearing the end of my twenty-dollar credit, I hear for the first time in months my son screech with laughter. It warms my heart so much that I almost drop the pump and cry with joy. Thankfully, I’m able to maintain composure as I kneel down to see what has him so excited.

    My wife is gone from the car. I don’t know exactly where she went. I don’t recall hearing her exit the car. My brow furrows, and I turn my attention to Jack.

    He has his mother’s deep brown eyes that are reminiscent of crystal rather than mud. The light allows the small golden flecks in those pools of joy to twinkle with life. He looks away from me, and laughs again. I’m not sure what enamors him so, and although I want to study him for a moment to figure it out, the pump handle clanks hard letting me know it finished.

    I get back in the car, and my wife is sitting in the passenger seat again. However, this time she’s facing the back seat, playing with Jack.

    She says, “The bathrooms here are so clean. I expected to walk into some kind of CDC death trap, but I have to hand it to the guy, he really knows how to scrub.”

    She hasn’t shown this much affection or attention to either of us in a long time, so I don’t respond. I know I’m still broken even if she has suddenly become okay, and I don’t want my dour mood to sour hers. So, I remain quiet as I pull out of the station.

    Jack continues to play. Kelly lightly claps her hands and urges him on. I glance over at her, and I want to caress her skin, to feel her warmth, but I know I don’t deserve to touch her. Instead, I look in the rear view mirror to steal a glimpse of my son, and I see my daughter sitting next to him.

    Slamming on the breaks causes me to lose control of the vehicle for a moment. I wrestle it back into a straight line on the road, and then I stop the Chevy entirely. I try to turn around and look at my daughter, but the seat belt stops me. I fight hard with it, and finally release the latch. I look back, and see her sitting there as alive as ever.

    While Jack has his mother’s eyes, Liliana has mine. They’re azure, but warm. The light haloes from her blonde hair and filters through the fuzzy peach hair on her cheek. She looks scared because of my reaction.

    Kelly says between panicked breaths, “What the heck was that?”

    I shake my head, unable to speak.

    “Babe, are you okay?”

    My heart pounds in my chest, and I step out of the car. With my hands on my head, I try to control my breathing. I look out into that hot abyss. A lizard skitters from one dead bush to another. A fly buzzes near a pile of coyote droppings; it lands for a moment and then takes flight again.

    I know this can’t be real, but it’s too vivid to be a dream. It has to be a reality, but then, how is my daughter alive? I don’t know, and because I figure that it can’t be real, I fear turning around because I worry she won’t be there.

    Eventually, I gain the courage to turn, and gasp in horror. The car sits overturned in the embankment, fluid dripping from the hood. It takes me a minute to process what I’m seeing, and then I run to the car.

    “Kelly!” I scream, and I fall to my knees to look through the window.

    It is there I find my wife crumpled in the passenger seat. In the back, my son lays silent, still hanging in the safety seat. I search for my daughter, who is supposed to be in the car. She isn’t there. However, someone else is in the car. Me. I sit there with blood all over my face, teeth smashed, and eyes bulging and staring through the cracked windshield.

    I look anywhere but there and find my daughter standing a short distance away from the wreckage. She smiles warmly, and beckons me with her hand. Her mannerism isn’t that of a child but of someone with finer motor skills. She smiles again, and I go to her. When I arrive, I find Kelly standing next to her with little Jack sleeping peacefully in her arms.

    1. UnclePizza

      I know you write a lot of “dark” material Doc, but this has the unusual quality of being both dark and uplifting at the same time. I’m not sure how you did it, but you really nailed this one with the sweet spot of the bat. Great job.

    2. ReathaThomasOakley

      I loved this, beautifully written and moving. I also keep thinking of the old man with the clean service station. Perhaps he’s there to give folks like these what they truly need.

    3. Observer Tim

      Thanks, Doc; I was hoping for a good ghost story and fearing I’d have to write it myself. I bow to the master. You did a fantastic job with the slow build. There should be literary scouts watching for stories like this one.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        A real tear-jerker. I noticed the power in the writing as soon as I started the story. A story of sadness and hope twined together. I really love this style you use here. The detail was also amazing work

  31. Ananfal

    I didn’t have much stuff with me. It kind of made sense to pack light – after all, if no one picks you up, you’re stuck walking with whatever you got, and if you don’t want to tire yourself out, it better not be too heavy. I was a gypsy before, so I knew how to live in the wild. Being nomads and all, it was a skill kids learned quick in the caravan.

    A pickup truck blew past me, so fast I knew it would be pointless to raise my hand. A slight tinkling filled my ears as the wind chime on the outside of my backpack stirred with the force of the wind from the truck, and I gave a wistful sigh. The chime was given to me by a man who was the closest I ever got to a father figure. I had to leave him…

    I quickly stopped that thought before it could continue and focused on trudging along the gravel by the side of the highway, another deep sigh escaping me. Softly, I began to sing an old gypsy song as a way to pass the time. I’m glad now that I had listened closely as a child, or else I would have found myself driven to madness from the boredom. I don’t know how long I sang for before a sound reached my ears that made me stop so I could hear better.

    As fast as I could I turned towards the road, sticking my hand out and waving frantically at the oncoming car. It was actually a truck, driving slow due to the oversized load balanced precariously behind it. For a second I expected it to just blow past me like so many before, but the truck began to slow and my heart leapt in my chest. Finally! The truck rolled to a stop and the door opened, a silent invitation.

    Abandoning any attempts to not seem desperate, I eagerly grabbed onto the handles and heaved myself up onto the stairs, settling into the seat and closing the door behind me. The truck immediately began to move again and I squirmed for a minute, pulling my backpack onto my lap and buckling the seatbelt, before I dared to glance at the person who picked me up.

    He was middle-aged, but the majority of the age I could see on his face came from stress, I could tell. That made my estimate of his age fall from 50s down to early 40s, maybe late 30s. A hard life had weathered the man before me until he was old before his time. His eyes were dark, almost black, but they weren’t hard or cold. His hands were rough from harsh work, but they held onto the steering wheel with a gentle grip, almost cradling the leather cover, and I knew he loved his truck, an old friend to him.

    He hadn’t missed my appraisal of him and conducted his own, presumably looking for any signs of a crazy axe murderer or something. His beard quirked to the side and I got the feeling he was smiling at me underneath all the hair. “Name?” His voice was hoarse and deep, the same kind of growl singers begged for.

    I settled back into the seat, looked at the small dream catcher hanging above his dashboard, caressed my wind chime slightly, and smiled. “Call me Gypsy.”

    ————

    Inspired by the last episode of a show called The Finder, sadly cancelled after one season. Willa, may you find someone to take you where you are going.

      1. Ananfal

        I can say how disappointed I am in the way the show ended, but I don’t let that sour the wonderful characters they created. Willa was definitely my favorite, and I’m glad you liked my little tribute to her.

      1. Ananfal

        I’ve tried to answer your comment twice but my posts have mysteriously disappeared. o.O Therefore I shall just have to state that the character isn’t mine, but thank you for the compliment.

    1. Observer Tim

      I’m not familiar with the show (it may not have even aired up here), but I looked it up. That didn’t help, so I’ll say if you captured the show’s feel you did really well. To one of the ignorati, I would say this got me thinking about what happens after a TV show is over. Maybe somewhere the favourite characters of my youth are out there riding the rails. This is a beautiful concept that you executed very well, Ananfal.

      1. Ananfal

        I myself found the show on Netflix, so I’m not sure if it is available anywhere else, but think of Willa as the sarcastic but lovable side character. She was my personal favorite of them all. 🙂 As for other characters – I’m sure they also have their own stories to tell. After all, isn’t that what fanfiction is? 😛

  32. jhowe

    Joe pumped gas while I bought snacks and energy drinks at a Shell station near some railroad tracks outside of Denver. The GPS said we had 1,390 miles to go. A thin, stooped black man had just paid for a bottle of water and a double size Kit Kat. We exited the store together.

    “You wouldn’t be headed to New Orleans by chance would you?”

    I blinked. How did he know? He wasn’t as old as he looked at first, maybe forty five or so, close cropped hair, a thin graying beard.

    “The name’s Willie. Willie Rome.” He held out his hand and I shook it.

    “I’m Jim, that’s my brother Joe at the car.”

    “So, New Orleans then?” he said, stifling a rattling cough. “It would mean a lot to me.”

    I winced when Joe put the nozzle back in the pump and looked at me wide eyed. What the hell you doing, is what his eyes said.

    After some awkward moments, we were off. Willie sat in the back, his worn duffle beside him. He was soon asleep, his raspy breath audible and alarming. I watched him as Joe clenched the wheel with whitened fists.

    “What do think’s wrong with him,” Joe whispered. “It better not be contagious.”

    Willie answered with a fit of coughing and a handful of blood. When he recovered, he started talking. “I might as well lay it on the line fellas.” He wiped his face and hands on a tee shirt from his bag. “I ain’t got a lot of time, as you can probly see. I got me a boy I don’t even know in New Orleans. He’s about ten or so now. He wrote me a few times, in prison, and his ma sent a few pictures over the years, but I ain’t ever seen him.”

    “What do you have, Cancer?” I said.

    “Most likely it’s about everywhere now,” he said. “It started here.” He probed a spot under his left armpit. “Now it’s in my lungs and my liver. I’ll be dead before long.”

    “Didn’t they treat you in prison?”

    “They would’ve, yeah, I guess, but I said no. I was due to get out in a few months and I thought I could hold out in time to see my boy. I think I would’a died in a hospital bed if I took the treatment.”

    Willie’s eyes closed and his chest rasped. “Will you boys do something for me, since you’re headed to New Orleans anyway?”

    Joe looked straight ahead, frowning. “What,” I said.

    “Here’s my boy’s address.” He handed me a slip of paper. “Take him this here box.” He pulled a tattered cardboard cigar box out of his bag. “It’s everything I got that’s worth a damn. He lives with his ma. Rose and me, we were’nt ever married.”

    “You can give it to him yourself,” I said. “We’ll take you to him.”

    “Nah, something’s not right. I can feel it.” He took a ragged breath. “I think I’m about done.”

    “Well hang on then, we’ll get you to a doctor!”

    “Just stop at the next exit and let me off.” I waited through a heart wrenching coughing fit. “At a park or something, somewhere pretty with lots of trees.”

    I drove with the cigar box beside me. I’d left Joe back at the hotel. At a tumbledown FEMA trailer in St. Bernard Parish, I told them what he’d said. I told Rose he still loved her and was sorry for all he’d done. I told the boy that his daddy was proud of him and how he wished he could be here. The boy took the box with shaking hands and tears streaming down his cheeks. His mother smiled at me and led her son back to the trailer with a gentle touch. At the stoop, she turned. “Willie never did have no luck, but he had as heart as big as the south. Thanks, mister, for all you done.” She turned and went in the house. I swallowed the lump in my throat, got in the car and drove.

    From the song, Give My Love to Rose, by Johnny Cash.

  33. dustymayjane

    “Sara! Come in here!” Samantha cried from the ladies room of the Gulf Station off Highway 61, deep in the hills of Tennessee. Neither girl appreciated using the typically substandard restrooms. The key was attached to a long stick so no one was tempted to steal it. Who would want a key, was always the question in mind.

    Sara wasn’t in a rush. Her sister was probably over dramatizing as usual. “Open the door, I’m right outside.”

    “It’s a baby, a little girl!” Samantha shouted. Her face reflected excitement and joy.

    Sara could tell that the tiny creature in her sister’s arms was brand new. “Oh my Gosh! Poor little thing.”

    A rap on the door from outside was followed by Grant’s impatient shout. “Come on ladies, time’s a wastin!”

    Grant and his wife Samantha, married a long time, have been waiting for a baby of their own. The decision to travel to Memphis had been an easy one for Sara. She was going to carry her sister’s and brother in law’s baby for them.

    The sisters looked at each other, questioning their next move. Sara, the more rational, considered the risks. Samantha, ruled by her heart and desperate to have a child, considered only that she had been gifted with a child who needed her.

    “Samantha, listen. We have to call the police.” She knew she was already battling her sister’s will. Samantha had made her decision the moment she heard the small bundle whimper.

    “No we don’t. Why? They’d just take her away! Put her in some foster home with ten other neglected children” Samantha held the child nearer her breast. Instinctively the infant nuzzled for something to suckle. “Look. She hungry poor little angel.”

    Grant knocked on the door again. Samantha opened it and held the baby for her husband to see. “What? A baby!” The instant shock on Grant’s face was soon replaced with wonder and fatherly love.

    “She was abandoned Grant. Left for us.” Samantha was so filled with love that Sara could see her argument to call authorities would fall to deaf ears. She had to be the voice of reason.

    “Grant, we need to call someone. Maybe take her to the hospital and have her checked out.”

    Grant looked away from the baby, taking in his wife’s expression of contentment and concern. “No we don’t Sara. Let’s just love her ourselves.”

    Sara went into the station to return the key. She decided she would ask the attendant if he had seen a pregnant woman come in recently. The young man barely in his teens was too occupied with his cell phone to hear her come in. From inside she watched the new family, huddled together, walk to the car at the gas pump. Sara looked to her heart for the answer.

    “Grant, start a list. We’ll stop at the Wal-Mart in Lexington and get this baby some formula and diapers and clean clothes…” Sara smiled back at her family in the backseat. “What’s her name?”

    “Angel.” Grant and Samantha agreed.

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