Category Archives: drama

Checkmate

l-Checkmate

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“Don’t blame the sinner.”

“Don’t fear for him sister, I promise his death will be as swift and painless as possible.”

“It wasn’t his fault, he was being manipulated. Please, hasn’t there been enough killing already?”

“Another of the Black Queen’s pawns, is that it?”

“No, he’s much more than that.”

“Yes he is, a knight disguised as a bishop, very clever.  But I saw through your little trick, didn’t I?  I’ve always been three moves ahead of you.”

The White Queen and the Black Queen, Luminous and Caliginous, locked in a battle that had been going on for decades.  They were the twin daughters of King Stalemateous, who ruled over a vast empire.  Upon his death his expansive kingdom was divided in half and split between his two daughters.

Everything to the west of Lake Isongard; the golden fields of Adelphia, the orchards of Kalipula, the rolling plains of Surmanthia where the horse lords bred steeds for the royal patrol, and where seldom a cloud was seen in the sky, along with all the people who lived among those lands, now fell under the rule of Luminous, the White Queen.  The lands to the east of Lake Isongard and the few people who still lived there became the kingdom of the Black Queen, Caliginous;  these were the lands filled by the nearly impenetrable Dimwood Forrest where nothing was said to live except for the twisted and gnarly trees that were as old as the world itself, the tar pits of Undoora that were told to have swallowed entire regiments of knights, and the rocky peaks of the Heltermonth Mountains which reached up to snow-covered heights.

After their father’s passing Caliginous implored her sister that they should reunite the kingdom, and rule together.  Luminous, however, had other plans.

Being born minutes before her sister the White Queen believed herself to be the rightful heir of all that her father had, and she struck out violently in an attempt to rest control away from her younger sibling.  The surprise attack was devastating, and sent Caliginous and the few people loyal to her into hiding in the depths of the Dimwood Forest.  The family feud raged on for years, the Black Queen and her armies battled back, and at one point seemed poised to win the war as they toppled one of the White Queen’s castles.  But then on that same night, as the fires among the remains of the ruined stronghold were still burning, the Black Queen and her followers fled back to the safety of Dimwood Forrest.

Luminous, blinded by her fury, sent wave after wave of her soldiers into those cursed wood, none of them were ever seen again.  Unsuccessful at flushing her sister out, the White Queen withdrew and lived secluded from her kingdom until her sister came out of hiding and asked for a meeting to discuss the fate of the knight that had been captured sneaking into the White Queen’s castle.

“Please sister, you don’t know what you’re doing.  He was not sent there to kill you, he came with an offering of peace.”

“This war will end when I reunite father’s kingdom, only I am his rightful heir, and after I rid myself of your assassin I will send my armies across the lake to end this once and for all, even if I have to burn that entire cursed forest to the ground to do it.  Until then, this is what I think of your peace.”  and with a flick of the White Queen’s wrist the young knight was flung over the castle’s wall, his body snapped to a stop as the rope tied around his neck went taut.

“Nooo!” the Black Queen screamed out to late.  “What have you done.  He was no killer.  He was your son, the secret child you hid away in the castle I destroyed all those years ago.  I found him among the rubble and took him back to Dimwood Forrest.  I taught him of our father, and of our feud, and I sent him to you to beg for peace.”

Luminous turned and looked into the eyes of the now dead man who hung from her castle’s wall, and as the heavy realization of what she had done sunk in she collapsed to her knees.

Caliginous signaled her army to attack by removing the black veil she was wearing, and as she turned her back on her grieving sister she uttered, “Checkmate.”
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written for: The Speakeasy #149
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Counting Stars

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“Lets see, there was Harrison Ford back in the seventies, before the whole Star Wars thing.”  The woman talking to the group of uninterested men was Meryl White, an actress that hadn’t been in front of a camera in over thirty years.  “I’ve been with Kevin Costner twice.” Meryl continued as she sipped champagne from the long-stemmed glass that she casually held in one hand as she flicked ashes from the cigarette that was in the other. “And of course Kevin Bacon, but everybody’s been with him.  Oh, and Mickey Rourke, back before he messed his pretty face up with all that plastic surgery.”

Meryl always insisted on being the center of attention, and tonight was no different; it made no difference to her that she had not actually been invited to tonight’s party, she showed up wearing the kind of shiny black dress that you would expect to see on some starlet at the red carpet of an awards show, her favorite costume jewelery hanging from around her neck, and her hair was held in place by enough Aquanet to stand up to a hurricane.

As soon as Gracie made the mistake of mentioning the celebration that her new employer, Alpine Marketing, was going to have to mark the occasion of signing their first million dollar account in front of her mother, Meryl had guilted her daughter into letting her tag along.  Gracie had made her mother promise to remain low-key and not do anything to embarrass her in front of her new bosses, but she couldn’t bring herself to be surprised by her mother’s appearance; Meryl didn’t know what low-key meant.

Gracie wasn’t a part of the marketing team, she had only been at the firm for a couple of weeks and did mostly secretarial work; her job at the party was to oversee the refreshments, which meant making sure the bartender had everything he needed and occasionally making a trip around the room with a tray of hors d’ourves.

Gracie set her tray of food down on the bar after making her latest round, “Give me double shot of the strongest thing you’ve got back there Charlie.”

Charlie was the bartender that had been hired for the night, and Gracie had been telling him about her mother.  She had told him about Meryl’s obsession with being known as a star of the silver screen, even though she had never starred in a single movie.  Meryl liked to act like she was a box office magnet, but in reality she had only ever played small bit roles, doing parts that no one would ever remember. “What’s she up to now?” Charlie asked.

“She’s counting stars.”  Gracie answered.

“Counting stars?”

“It’s what she does at parties.” Gracie explained, “She recounts for anyone that will stand still long enough to listen the names of every star she was in a movie with, no matter how small her part in the film was. That is, until she gets a little more champagne in her, then she’ll start counting all the stars she’s slept with, but we’re going to stop things before they get that far.”  Gracie gulped down her drink.

“Really, how are we going to do that?” interested in hearing what her plan was.

“You’re going to start mixing these drinks a lot stronger, and I’m going to pray everyone gets so drunk they don’t remember this night at all.”  Gracie told him with a smile on her face.

“Good ole alcohol,” Charlie said, “the magic potion to solve many a problem.”

Gracie had another plan that she didn’t share with Charlie though, and after he filled her tray with drinks once again and turned back to washing the dirty glasses in the sink behind the bar, Gracie deftly sprinkled the crushed Ambien into the cocktails before delivering them to the men surrounding her mother.  No one could ever know what happened here.
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written for: The Speakeasy #148
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Paris

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The warm early morning sunlight peeking through the curtains and falling across Avery’s face woke her from a blissful sleep.  She laid on her side for a moment, staring at the veiled glass of the french doors that lead to the balcony, able to tell there was a bright clear sky behind its shroud.  Colin laid with his body close behind her’s, one arm wrapped around her slim waist; he was still asleep.  Avery took his hand in her’s and pulled it up to her lips where she softly kissed his fingers; the two had only been in Paris for a few days, and there was still a dark line of grease under his nails from the years he had spent working as a mechanic in the shop across the street from the diner where she worked as a waitress.

Avery slid out from under Colin’s arm and slipped out of bed, she pulled the sheet away from her sleeping lover as she tip-toed across the cold marble floor of their penthouse hotel room, wrapping it around her naked body as she went.  Colin grunted behind her; uncovered and no longer with the warmth from her body next to him he slowly began to wake up as well, blinking the sleep from his eyes and entranced by her every step until she arrived at the double doors.  Avery pulled both doors open fully at the same time, a corner of the sheet in each outstretched hand, the bedroom behind her flooded with light as a warm gentle breeze blew past her causing the sheet to ripple.  Colin could not take his eyes off her body as she stood there,  silhouetted from him by the sheet, and completely revealed to the outside world on the other side of it.

Avery let her exposed body bask in the warmth of the sun as it rose up into a cloudless sky, she heard the faint sounds of traffic forty stories below, and looked at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, glad that the rain from the previous few days seemed to be over, the world now smelling fresh and clean.  As if she could feel Colin’s thoughts behind her, Avery allowed the sheet to fall down her back to just above her waist before wrapping it around herself once more and turning to face him.  Avery looked at Colin laying on the bed, he was still naked from the night before; she didn’t need to ask what he was thinking, his body told her exactly what he wanted.

She smiled at him playfully as he watched her cross the room; Avery’s movements graceful, as she passed the bed Colin continued watching, her hips gently swayed with each step.  Avery placed one hand on the doorway and let it trail behind her, the sheet falling to the floor just as she disappeared into the bathroom, “Get dressed.” Avery called out to him as the sound of the shower spit to life, “I want to go see the city.”

Colin ignored what she said; instead he joined her in the shower where Avery acquiesced to his desire once more before they both dressed and headed out to explore their new surroundings.

It was hard to believe that it had been just one week since that man with a northern accent broke into the house Avery’s grandmother had left her, he had tied her up as he searched under the floorboards for hidden riches.  Colin had stopped by unexpectedly that night to surprise Avery, and nearly had his head bashed in with a crowbar for his efforts.  Avery had barely been able to free her hands in time to pick up the man’s gun from where it had been dropped during his fight with Colin, and shoot the maniac through the back.  With his dyeing breath the man issued an ominous warning, that he was not alone, that there are others looking for the same thing he was.

The man died in Avery’s foyer, after which she took Colin upstairs to the bedroom and showed him the money he had pulled from the floor as she sat tied up in the corner.  Colin went over to inspect the opening, and when he did he found that there were still more bundles of the money left inside.  The two removed more of the floorboards and continued to pull out more and more money, when they finally finished in the early hours of the morning they had found nearly a million dollars, but as Colin pulled the last of the bundles out of the floor he found something else underneath it.

The luster of the silver necklace that Colin pulled from its resting place below the final bundle of one hundred dollars bills had been faded by tarnish for quite some time.  The necklace’s chain seemed impossibly thin, and at its end hung an intricately woven Celtic cross not much bigger than his thumb.  “There’s something written on the back.”, he told Avery as he passed her the necklace, it was so delicate it felt nearly weightless in her hand.

Avery furrowed her brow as she examined the tiny inscription on the back.  She could tell that there were two words, but there was too much tarnish covering the second word to tell what it was.  “The first word’s Dues, that’s Spanish for two right?”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t tell what the second word is though, it looks like it starts with a ‘C’…maybe cats.” She offered jokingly.

“Two cats.” Colin replied thoughtfully.  “And here I always pictured Jesus as more of a dog person.”  The two shared a laugh as they sat among the torn up floor boards and looked around at the small stacks of money piled up throughout the room.

“Now what?”  Avery asked, there was a hint of desperation in her voice not to be the one to have to answer her own question. In just one night her entire life had been turned upside down. She wasn’t sure why she trusted Colin so much, or why she felt so comfortable with him.  Maybe it was all the afternoons they had spent flirting as she served him grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries at the diner where she worked the counter.  Colin had asked her out several times during the years that she spent caring for her ailing grandmother, but Avery denied him every time.  She worked at the diner six days a week and barely made enough to keep the lights on at home and afford the many medications that were helping her sick grandmother cling to life.  Now she sat amongst more money than she knew what to do with, and she was glad that she wasn’t alone.

“Is this the only room your grandmother used to rent out?” Colin asked as he fanned through a stack of the hundred-dollar bills before tossing it into one of the piles with the others.

“No.” Avery answered him, “She told me she used to rent out the room across the hall too.”

Colin looked through the doorway and into the smaller bedroom across the hall.  “Do you think we should check it?”

Avery looked around herself and then shook her head, “I don’t think I could handle uncovering anymore secrets tonight.”

Colin wasn’t sure why he felt so strongly about Avery, but he knew there was something special about her the first time they met at the diner across from the auto shop where he worked. Her eyes spoke a language that his heart understood, even if the rest of him didn’t; and every time that Colin asked her out and Avery told him no, he would simply tell her that it was okay, that eventually she would change her mind, and that he was willing to wait until she did.

Colin wasn’t supposed to be at Avery’s that night.  It was only Thursday, and their first date was still another night away; but Colin was excited that Avery had finally agreed to go out with him, and he had stopped by to give her the bouquet of supermarket wildflowers he had impulsively picked out when he got off work earlier that day.  As he stood on her front porch waiting for her to answer the door he thought about how corny he must look, and contemplated leaving before she could open the door.  He would have had plenty of time. As Colin continued to wait he began to feel a bit uneasy; he looked through the window next to door to try to discern if there was any movement coming from inside, and wondered if Avery might be in the back of the house and unable to hear his knock.

As Colin looked into the foyer he noticed a briefcase setting in the floor, the rug by the front door was bunched up as if it had been kicked, and a small table that had been holding a potted fern of some sort was knocked over on its side.  Colin tried the door, and found it unlocked, he stepped inside and called out for Avery.  Avery’s reply came from upstairs, she had shouted something about a man that Colin couldn’t quite make out, but the fear mixed with anger in her voice was easily recognizable.  Then out of no where the stranger appeared, rushing down the stairs with a crowbar in one hand.  In that instant Colin was ready to sacrifice his life to keep Avery safe, and he did his best to fight off the intruder, but it was Avery that killed the man and saved his life instead.

“What about the guy downstairs?” Colin asked.

Avery had let herself forget about the dead man down stairs, but Colin was right, it was an issue that had to be addressed.  Avery answered, “I guess it’s time to call the police.”, as she sat there gazing into his steel-blue eyes and silently thanking God that Colin was there with her, and that she wasn’t having to face this ordeal on her own.

“You know they’re going to take everything when they come, right?”  He sat there looking back at her, and into the warmness of her chestnut eyes.

“Of course they are, but what other option is there.  It’s not like we can hide all of this and hope they don’t find it.”

Colin sat quietly for a minute before offering his suggestion, “We could do what you said before, we could just leave.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.  You heard what that guy said.  He’s got friends that are looking for this money too, and it won’t be long before they end up here, and what then?”  Colin waited for Avery to answer, but she had no response for him.  “Instead of calling the police we should bury that guy deep, somewhere in the trees out back, clean all this up, leave town and never come back.  We could start in Paris, and when we get tired of that we could go somewhere else, anywhere else we wanted.”

“You are serious.” Avery said, she carefully crossed the room full of missing floor boards and sat beside him.  “You would do that?  Leave with me and never come back.”

“With you, yes.” Colin answered her, and then cupped Avery’s face in his hands and pulled it in close to his own, their lips met and they shared a long passion filled kiss.  When their embrace parted Colin said to her, almost breathlessly, “I brought you flowers.” referring to the flowers that now laid strewn about the floor downstairs.

“I saw them.” Avery replied, her voice shared the same anticipation that Colin’s did, and her lips trembled slightly as they longed to be locked with his once again, “They’re pretty, but I’m not going to have much time to enjoy them.  I’m leaving town soon.”

They left the room and went downstairs; Colin drug the dead man’s body out into the woods, and Avery began scrubbing the floor of the foyer where the blood had pooled.  It was hours later when she finally finished, and when Colin came back inside he was covered from head to toe in dirt.  “How deep did you bury him?”  Avery asked as she watched Colin, leaning exhausted against the wall.

“Lets just say you won’t have to worry about any stray dogs diggin’ him up.”

It took the two of them most of the rest of the day to replace all the floor boards, and to put the furniture back in place.  The sun was starting to go down Friday evening when they finally packed the last of the money into the back of Avery’s old Jeep Cherokee and headed out-of-town.  They didn’t stop driving until they reached Cincinnati where they holed up for the weekend in a motel on the outskirts of town. First thing Monday morning they went from bank to bank, renting deposit boxes and stuffing them full of money until they had it all stashed away.  On Tuesday they boarded a flight with a small bag full of money, and flew first class to Paris.

The first two days they were in the City of Love the rain never stopped.  Avery had spent hours staring out from the balcony at the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  She had also bought a tourism book at the airport as they waited for their flight, and now as they sat in their room at the top of the Napoleon Hotel and the rain continued to fall; Avery told Colin about all the things she wanted to see as soon as the weather cleared.  Colin promised to take her to see them all; The Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and anywhere else she wanted to go.  They spent their days wrapped in each others’ arms and talking about the future, and they spent their nights passionately making love.

When the weather finally cleared on the third day, and they stepped out of the hotel, hand-in-hand heading for the Eiffel Tower, they never even noticed the man dressed in a black suit and trench coat that followed them.
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written for: Goodreads – Week 200 – Free-for-All, write any story you want.
photo by: Stephan Edelbroich


The Blackadder

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Dark clouds started to congeal in the sky above The Blackadder; the waves of the open sea were no longer gentle and rolling, and began to crest as they smacked into the side of the wooden ship; and a cold arctic wind blew down from the north.

Captain Laurie swung open the door of his private quarters and stepped out onto the main deck of his pirate ship, the wooden peg that replaced the lower section of his right leg thumping as he went.  He glanced at the dark clouds forming overhead, and then at the men on deck mulling about.  “Mr. Rowan, what be the meanin’ of this lollygagging.  Can’t ye see thar’s  rough waters on the horizon?!”

“Yes sir.” Mr. Rowan, the ship’s first mate, replied.  “Sir, it’s just that…”

The captain didn’t stop to hear what Rowan was about to say, and instead pushed him out-of-the-way as the rain began to fall, and strode forward to address his crew. “Now look here ye lily-livered, yellow-bellied, flea ridden sea dogs, stop ye standin’ about gwakin’ at the purdy clouds and batten down the hatches, and stow away that main sail before she’s ripped asunder.” Unsheathing the cutlass from his side and flailing it around he continued to lambast them, “Now get to it before I run everyone one of ye scurvy infested, parrot stranglin’ harbour hogs through.”

All of the men ran in different directions to carry out the captain’s orders except one.  Captain Laurie fixed his irate gaze on the lone man half hanging over the side of the ship. “This is no time to be fishing for mermaids, ye can find ye a wife the next time we make port. Now get to work ye grog-snarfing, hammock hoggin’ rapscallion.”

“Sir,” Rowan timidly interjected from behind the captain, “that’s one of the new recruits we took on before leaving Tartooga.  I believe this is his first time at sea.”

Captain Laurie approached the young man, and stood behind the recruit that was still bent over the railing of the ship.  With a much kinder tone he addressed the young deck hand. “Is that right son? Is this ye first time on the high seas? Does she be havin’ ye a bit weak in the stomach with the rockin’ to and fro?”

“Harrrhgrhhrmragl…” the man tried to reply but was sick again.

The captain turned to Rowan, “Well I can’t be abiding some landlubbering freebooter on me ship.  We are pirates are we not, we do have some standards.” The captain then turned back toward the young man, “Please, be givin’ me regards to Davey Jones.”, and the captain kicked the man hard with his peg leg, sending him screaming into the waters below.

The splash the captain heard came sooner than expected, “Mr. Rowan, why we be sittin’ so low in the water? Do ye not have the men working the bilge?!”

“Yes sir, but as I was trying to tell you earlier, it seems that the bilge is being blocked by something.”

“Probably just a rat, stuck in the pipe.  Must I be doin’ everything around here.” The captain shouted behind himself as he headed below deck. He headed for the intake to the bilge pumps on the lowest level, the pumps were used to remove the water that seeped in through the hull.

Rowan stayed on the main deck and saw to it that the crew finished preparing the ship for the storm that was coming in.  With everything finally stowed away and the sails all secured;  the men gathered around the bilge pumps, working the handle and waiting to see it once again expel the water that was seeping into the lower reaches of the ship.  As the ship began to set lower and lower in the sea Rowan ordered the men to ready the life boats, and as the first of the waves began to break over the ship’s side Rowan and the crew wearily watched the doorway that led below deck.

*****

“And so you never saw Captain Laurie again after he went below?” Rowan was asked by the captain of the ship that had rescued the crew of The Blackadder after they had been adrift for nearly a week.

“No.  I ordered the men to cut the life boats free from the ship.” Rowan explained as he looked blankly out across the now calm horizon, “I sat there and waited, but he never came back.”
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written for – The Speakeasy #146
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photo by: Peterconcept


The Visitor

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Lots of communities have an old house on the corner, or an old house at the end of the street, or an old house down a lonely country road.  It’s always an old house; usually with an unkept and overgrown front yard; its backyard fenced in, and if a ball is accidentally thrown over, well that ball is just lost forever.  The old house’s occupants, if there are any, are almost always quite old themselves, and they’re often shut-ins that are only seen outside once or twice a year; if no one lives there then it’s a house full of ghosts, or Bloody Mary, or the boogeyman.

In the small town of Paris, Kentucky, it’s known as the old house on the hill.  The hill is on the south side of the little country town.  It’s not the only hill in Paris, but it is the only hill with a straight road.  The road that runs up the hill coming out-of-town is straight as an arrow, and when the snow comes each winter so do the children with their sleds. None of them go all the way to the top though, because at the top of the hill is where the old house sets. There’s a large yard around the old house, but not many trees, and on clear nights when the moon is full the old house gives off an eerie glow.

The old house was just that, built well over a hundred years ago it was home first to the manager of a horse ranch that raised plow horses for the farms in the area.  The ranch shutdown long ago, the land sold off to local farms, the area around the house on the hill bought by the ranch manager himself who took his own try at farming and was not at all unsuccessful.  His grandchildren though had their own ambitions, and sold the land to a developer that wanted to build houses for people who prefered to commute to nearby Lexington.

The ranch manager’s great-granddaughter was given the house when the land surrounding it was sold off.  She was a widow of thirty something at a time when no man of any real prospect would take a woman of that age for a new wife.  Childless, it was thought that the house would be sold and most probably demolished when the spinster finally passed away.  However, some years later she had a child, and there was much speculation as to who the father could possibly be.  The rumors were quite harsh, some saying she had taken a liking to the town drunk, and others saying she had conjured a demon to father her child; mostly the women of Paris did not want to admit to themselves that it was likely one of their own husbands that had stepped out to visit the widow lady.

The truth was the woman had taken to renting out rooms to travelers, and it was one of these men that she had spent a passionate night with as he made his way from Ohio to Georgia.  She never saw the man again, and now treated as even more of an outcast she raised her fatherless daughter mostly in seclusion.

It was when the old spinster died, and her recluse daughter inherited the house that the gossip of what went on there became the subject matter for not just the sewing circles, but the town’s children too.  The old house’s new owner carried on her mother’s business of renting out rooms to make ends meet.  But small towns never trust outsiders, and that’s what these travellers were.

The stories the children came up with were quite fanciful, full of bank robbers, murderers, and mobsters from the big cities up north on the run from the law.  The gossip of the town’s women was probably more accurate.  That the daughter had not only taken up the business of renting out rooms, but of also spending the night with the various men that passed through.  This seemed especially true since the woman ended up having three children of her own, despite never marrying.

The woman’s three children wanted no part of small town living though, and they all left Paris the first chance that they got. None of them caring that their mother was getting older, and sicker, and was all alone in the old house on the hill.  It was the woman’s granddaughter Avery that returned to care for her in those final years, the daughter of her youngest child.

By day Avery worked as a waitress in a small diner downtown, after which she would return to the old house on the hill to feed and bath her grandmother, and help her into bed.  There were not many people who stopped to rent a room for the night at the old house anymore, but when there was Avery would prepare a dinner and clean up after them as well.  There was no TV in the old house, so most nights Avery would read to her grandmother until the old woman fell asleep, and then retire to her own small room in the back of the house.

This routine went on until one morning when the old woman did not wake up.  Avery sat next to her grandmother’s bed that morning and finished reading the last few chapters of the book they had been sharing together, before shedding a single tear and calling the police.  She knew her grandmother’s time was drawing to an end, and Avery was thankful that she passed away peacefully as she slept, but she already felt a hole in her existence knowing that this chapter of her life was over before she was ready to have it end.

It came as a shock to everyone when the woman’s three children returned to Paris for the first time in many years to hear the will read to find that their mother had secretly changed the document, and left her entire estate to Avery.  The old lady didn’t have much, mostly just the old, run-down house on the hill, which the three greedy siblings had all hoped to sell and split the money from like they had won some sort of morbid lottery.

Avery was not at all surprised when her aunt, and uncle left town without saying goodbye; but she was taken aback when her own mother left too, and wouldn’t return her calls.

Unsure of what else to do Avery returned to work at the diner during the day. She spent her evenings tidying up her grandmother’s house, and sitting in the rocking chair next to her grandmother’s bed to read before retiring to her small room at the back of the house.  At night she would lay in bed and wait for sleep to overcome her as she thought about Colin, the strapping, dark-haired mechanic at the shop across from the diner.  She wondered if he could really be the man of her dreams.  Someone funny, and smart, and that hopefully knew his way around a tool belt.

Everyday Colin would cross the street, sit at her counter, and do his best to make her smile as he ate his grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate shake.  And each day she would smile, and flirt with him, but tell him that she had her grandmother to care for.  Today, two weeks after her grandmother’s passing, Colin asked her out again, this time she was able to say yes.

Avery was giddy the rest of the afternoon, she knew the stories in town about her grandmother’s house, and she had no desire to become known as the next old spinster to live on the hill, or worse to be known as some witch that ate children’s souls for breakfast.  There was even a lightness in her step that night as she danced around the house, dusting her grandmother’s old knickknacks and wondering just what to do with this house full of stuff.

“Coming.” Avery called out to the knock at the door, as she swung the door open she still had a smile beaming across her face, “Hello.”

“Hello, I was wondering if I could get a room for the night.” The man on the other side of the door was middle-aged, lean and at around six-foot tall much taller than Avery, he had steel-blue eyes, and his mostly dark hair was just beginning to show hints of grey.  He wore a trench coat over an expensive looking suit, carried a briefcase in one hand, and had a backpack slung over the other shoulder.

“I’m sorry, we don’t rent rooms anymore.” Avery apologized, she felt uneasy around this man for some reason and couldn’t bring herself to look away from his eyes. “There’s a really nice hotel in town though.”

“Are you sure, I was told you rent rooms, and I’m willing to pay cash.” The man took a half step forward.

“I’m positive.” Avery gripped the knob of the door she stood half behind tighter, “I’m sorry for the confusion, goodnight.” Avery began to shut the door, but before she could the man stuck his foot inside.

“Please, my grandfather told me about this place.  He said he rented a room for a couple of nights on the second floor, and that if I ever found myself in this part of the country I owed it to myself to stop by.”

“I don’t care who told you what. If you don’t leave now I’m calling the police.”

“Now that’s the one thing you shouldn’t have said.” and with that the man threw his shoulder into the door knocking Avery backwards and onto floor of the foyer.

Avery got up to run for the kitchen, and the only phone in the house, but before she could take the first step her head was yanked backwards as the man grabbed a handful of her wavy blonde hair and pulled her back down from behind. Her head hit hard against the floor when she fell, and everything almost went dark as she heard the door slam shut behind her.

“Now, now.  Where do you think you’re going?” the man playfully asked as he grabbed a handful of Avery’s hair once again and began to drag her up the stairs backwards.

Avery clawed at the intruder’s wrist and arm, but couldn’t do any damage through the thick trench coat.  The back of her head was on fire with pain as she felt like her scalp was going to be pulled off.  She kicked her feet wildly trying to keep up as she was being pulled along.

When they reached the top of the stairs the man yanked Avery to her feet and shoved her through the first doorway on the right.  Avery stumbled forward into the bedroom that, until recently, had been used for decades as the room to house travelers.  He dropped the backpack he had been carrying onto the floor as he stepped in behind her. Avery spun and tried to run out of the room past him; as she did he punched her hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her, and pushing her back to collapse on the bed in horror.

“You know, I was really hoping we could do this the easy way.” he told her, “I didn’t come here intending to hurt you.  I really didn’t.  But you haven’t been giving me much choice.” The man opened the backpack and pulled out a length of rope as he was talking.

“Please, don’t do this.” Avery begged as she tried to regain her breath, and watched in terror as the man stood up holding the rope and came to stand in front of her.

“Please believe me, I really don’t want to.  But you’ve brought this on yourself.”

The man grabbed Avery’s right wrist and flipped her over on the bed before pulling her arm behind her.  Being much stronger than the girl, who was only half his size, he was able to quickly get her other arm pinned behind her back as well where he tied her wrists together, before rolling her onto her back once more.

The man who had just minutes ago pushed his way into Avery’s home now had his face just inches from her own.  “Now, you’re going to do exactly as I say, or I’m going to have to hurt you. Do you understand.”

Avery was to frightened by what she thought was coming next to answer, and as the tears began to stream down her cheeks she was only able to manage a slight nod.

“Good.” The man told her as he pulled her up off of the bed, and sat her in the corner on the floor.  “You stay very still, and very quiet, and this will be over before you know it.”

The man returned to his backpack, and this time pulled out a short crowbar.  He then went back to the bed, and pushed it from the middle of the room all the way against the far wall.  He then started counting floor boards until he reached a place that would have been under the bed’s original position.  He counted a second time, and then kneeled down in the floor and used the crowbar to pry up a loose floor board.  It took him no time at all to remove the board, and he had several more were pulled out before he was done.  With the boards out of the way, he reached into the space below the floor, and with a big smile on his face began to pull out stacks of rubberbanded one hundred-dollar bills.  When he finished there were ten stacks in all, each about four inches tall.

“Just where Grandpa said he left it.” the man proclaimed in triumph.  “I left my briefcase downstairs, I’ll be right back.  Don’t you go anywhere.”

But before the man could get out of the room there was a knock at the front door. “Shhh.” the man hissed at Avery as he held his index finger in front of his pursed lips.  The knock came a second time.  “Who is that?”

“Untie me, and I’ll go check.”

“Nice try.”

They heard the door creak open, “Avery.” the voice downstairs called out.

Avery recognized it immediately, “Colin!  I’m upstairs!  There’s a man that bro….” The man backhanded her hard across the face splitting her lip before he made his way out of the room and headed for the stairs.

Colin wasn’t supposed to pick Avery up for their first date until tomorrow night, but he couldn’t wait, and had decided to drop by and bring her flowers as a surprise.  Colin was the one surprised though as he watched a man charging down the stairs with a crowbar in his hand.

“You picked the wrong night to come by Romeo.”  the man said as he reached the bottom of the stairs and began to draw back with the crowbar.

Colin wasted no time though, and quickly swung the bouquet of flowers at the man’s face; its pedals exploding off in every direction as they smacked into the man’s head.  The force of the blow wasn’t hard enough to do any real damage, but it did cause him to pause briefly; which was all the time Colin needed to pick up the briefcase he had seen setting in the floor and use it as his second weapon.  As the man blinked off the flower attack, his eyes went wide just as his own briefcase was reaching the side of his head.  This blow was much more devastating, and sent the man toppling backwards.  The hit was also hard enough to knock the briefcase open, sending the papers inside scattering everywhere, but it was the thud that caught Colin’s attention.  Colin couldn’t believe his eyes as he spotted the gun that had fallen to the floor.

Colin had swung the briefcase like he was trying to hit a home run, and when it slammed into the left side of the intruders head, catching him flush on the temple and ear, it made the man’s eyes roll back in his head.  Time seemed to briefly slow after the impact, and he dropped the crowbar as he stumbled back a few steps, instinctively grabbing the side of his now injured head with one hand, and blindly trying to wave off anymore attacks with the other.  The house was almost completely silent during this lull in the fight, except for the sound of something hard hitting the floor, which caused the man to shake the cobwebs from his head.  The intruder found himself frozen as he spotted the gun on the floor between himself and Colin.

The two men went for the gun at the same time, reaching the spot where it laid simultaneously they grappled with each other.  The intruder tried ducking down to grab the weapon, but before he could Colin managed to kick it away across the room.  As the man stood back up Colin caught him with a right hook to the jaw, and then he hit the man a couple of more times for good measure before he went to retrieve the gun himself.

The scream that came from behind Colin was the yell of a wild man, and he was able to turn around just in time to see that the intruder was charging him before the man’s shoulder slammed into Colin’s gut and he was driven back into the wall.  Colin laid dazed on the floor as the man straddled him at the waist and once again wielded the crowbar.  The man had a delirious look in his eyes as he raised the metal bar high above his head with both hands, ready to end this fight once and for all.

All Colin heard before the warm spray of blood covered his face was a pop, and then two more, he had closed his eyes tightly after the first noise, but as everything in the house went still and silent again he slowly reopened them.  The crazed look in the man’s eyes was gone, replaced with a blank expression, the crowbar dropped harmlessly from the man’s hand to the floor beside Colin, before the intruder’s body went limp and slumped to the floor.

The man gasped in one last breath, looked at Avery standing there holding his pistol, the smoke still curling up out of the barrel, and with his dyeing words warned her, “This isn’t over…I’m not the only one…looking for…”

Colin rushed to Avery who was still holding the gun in outstretched shaking arms.  “Are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded silently, then looked from the dead man’s body to Colin’s warm loving eyes.  “What are you doing here?”

“I came by to surprise you.”

“He surprised me more.”

Colin wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her in close to him.  Avery dropped the gun to floor and slid her arms around his waist.  Their lips met as they shared their first deep, lustful kiss, and then she buried her face into his chest, wanting to just melt into him.

“Who was he?” Colin asked.

“I don’t know.  He said he wanted to rent a room for the night, but I told him no.  Then he broke in and took me upstairs, said something about his grandfather, and started digging money out from under the floor boards.” Avery explained.

“We should call the police.”

“He said he’s not the only one.” Avery pushed back from Colins embrace, and looked up at him, fear in her eyes.

“They can protect us.” He tried to sound as reassuring as possible.

“Or we could just leave.”

“What?”

“We could take the money and go.”

“Where?”

“I’ve always wondered what the real Paris is like.”

—————
written for: Good Reads – Week 198
photo by: nineblind

 


Dalton Grady

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I have spent years chasing the tail of my darkness.  Trying to atone for the sins of my past.  Doing whatever I can to not be remembered only for the worst thing I’d ever done.

I had never been what was known as a ‘good boy’ growing up.  I always had a fascination with books and learning, but when you come from a family of outlaws there is a tendency to become one yourself.

Mother was a harsh and exacting woman, and for that reason my siblings and I stayed as far from that house as possible growing up.  This was probably the only good example ever set by my father, Patton; who left the woman when I was still quite young and did not return to her even after several stints in prison.

Now I do not mean to paint a negative picture of my father, he is not an inherently bad man.  Like myself, he was born into this life of crime.  The Grady clan has been living, and doing the family’s business, in the mountains of Appalachia in central West Virginia for more generations than any can now recall.  And for all that time the family has never been on the right side of the law.  But even if my father is a violent, gun-toting, drug runner, who demands payments for ‘protection’, and has a taste for illegal whiskey and women of the night; he is also a man of his word.

Funny as it may sound, but in this overly litigious world we now find ourselves, the word of a man like my father is still as strong as oak. So maybe you will understand that my father could not simply let it pass when Harlowe Bennet set up his little poker house in our very own town of Cowen, and forgot to cut my father in for a piece of the action.

Now this was no mere oversight on Harlowe’s behalf, the Bennet’s had long been a member of our little community and they knew to whom the tolls must be paid.  However, with my father finding himself once again as a guest of the great state of West Virginia’s correctional department, and the responsibility for the running of the family business having fallen to my older brother Bo; it was I, who had just come of age, that was sent to remind Mr. Bennet of his obligations.

There was a look of surprise on Harlowe’s face, a look that was shared by the faces of the three men still playing poker in that early morning hour,as I kicked the door in, and held them at gunpoint.  They handed over the money quickly enough, and with no objections.   The three men at the table sat speechless, from the looks of them they were coal miners, probably just looking for entertainment on a Saturday night. Harlowe was a hard man though, much like my father, and objected to my presence in his house; even going so far as to tell me there would be retribution no matter the cost.

I could not tell you why  my trigger finger began to itch the way it did;  maybe it was Harlowe’s impertinent attitude, or maybe it was just some darkness that had always been in me.  When my anger finally subsided the three men at the table along with Harlowe Bennet all laid dead at my feet; their blood pooling on the battered wooden floors, the thick smoke from the shots, and the smell of burnt gunpowder clinging to the air.  The silence that now filled the small room in the back of the beaten down old house on the outskirts of town was matched only by the calmness that filled me.  Never in my life had I felt that kind of peace, right down to my very core.

In the past I’ve wondered if it was a mistake to leave the boy who hid behind those dingy yellow curtains alive.  I find myself wondering that same thing now, as I stand outside the same house all these years later.  For now, it is Harley Bennet who has taken it upon himself to resume his father’s weekly poker game, and even though cleaning up this kind of mess is no longer something that falls to me, I cannot help but feel the deep burning desire to finish what I started.
—————
written for: The Speakeasy – 145

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Awakening

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When Alena awoke she found herself in a cyprus forest, still donning the same black silken robes that she had been wearing at her mother’s funeral; petals from the lilac wreath that had adorned her head that afternoon still clung to the waves of blonde hair that cascaded down around her sunkissed shoulders. Alena looked up to see the pale moon peeking between the limbs far overhead as she picked herself up from the cold hard ground, and wondered where she was.  The sharp bitter wind that blew through the ancient trees seemed to pierce her to the core, but it was the glimpse of something unseen that fleeted past the corner of her eye that sent the chills up her spine.

Terrified, and frozen in fear; Alena tried in vain to spot the shadowy figure amongst the impenatrable darkness cast by the trees, but the crushing silence of the night yeilded nothing.  Barely able to breathe she called out into the blackness in a voice barely above a whisper, “Hello…is someone there?”, as she waited for the response that she prayed would never come something whisked by behind her; flipping her hair playfully as it passed.  Alena spun around, but only in time to see a lone cyprus branch slightly swaying in the distance, and as the limb went still, so did the night again.

Lost and afraid Alena stood on trembeling knees, barely able to keep herself from collapsing back to the ground. Alone among the twisted and gnarled trees, she waited for whatever terror lurked in the forest to come rushing out and devour her. It was the sound of the tree branch breaking behind her that caused Alena to start running.

The sharp crack of the limb snapping under something’s foot rang out through the night like an unexpected clap of thunder.  Aleana did not look back as she ran to see what was chasing after her, not at the first sound that sent her running, not as she heard the bushes exploding behind her, and not as the guttoral scream continued its pursuit.  Alena no longer noticed the coldness of the night, but instead felt the burning in her legs and lungs growing as fear drove her forward.

Alena grew up on the island of Adamas in the Mediteranian, she knew most of its many forests, none of them with trees this ancient, knotted and twisting about themselves, so tall they looked as if they reached up amongst the very homes of the gods.

Alena had not run like this since she was a child and a wild dog chased her through her uncle’s olive orchard.  That time she ran for her mother’s out stretched arms, as the woman watched in terror at her daughter being chased by a black, mangy beast that was foaming at the mouth. Her uncle notched an arrow into his bow and let loose a shoot that sailed within an inch of Alena’s face as it dropped the half wolf mongral as it made its final lunge for the girl. Now her mother was dead, and there was no uncle to save her from the dark presence that felt like it was quickly about to overtake her. The spirit of some long dead beast, come to finish what it started all those years ago.

The ground under her feet dropped away several feet as Alena came bursting out of the forrest and into a clearing that laid before the beach, she tumbled headlong and sprawled out into the coarse sand.  Alena rolled onto her back just in time to see the bushes she had just run out of explode.

It was no black hearted beast though, that bore down upon her, but a man.  This man was dressed in the armor of a hoplite, and could have passed for one of the guards from the palace on Adamas; except his armor was not the polished bronze she was used to seeing, but was black as night, and his shield did not bear the pegasus, the seal of the island, but instead had that of a viper showing its fangs.

The man bound onto the shore and stood over Alena, the point of his black spear touching the soft skin of her throat just below her chin.  Alena was frozen by her fear, desimated by the loss of her mother, unaware of where she was, and unsure if she even wanted to go on.

The warrior’s breathing was heavy, and the fierceness of his eyes shown out from under his helmet as he snarled at her, “Disguise yourself as whatever you want, but tonight we find out if a fury can bleed.”

A tear ran down the side of Alena’s face as she closed her eyes, and waited for the blow that would end her life.  She felt the spear leave her neck, and heard the man let out a ferocious roar; but she did not hear the ping that came right before the spear thudded deep into the beach next to her head, and sent sand flying over her face.

Alena wiped away the debris as she opened her eyes and saw the soldier now standing to her left; his attention no longer on herself, but instead he looked at something off to her other side.  Alena looked to her right, past the spear still embeded in the ground, and an arrow that now laid next to it, and saw a woman emerging from the trees to join them on the beach.  Alena took the opportunity to scamper back a few feet as the man in black armor unseathed an equally black sword, that somehow still gleamed in the moonlight.

“You missed your chance.” the man growled.  “Now you’ll die for your trespasses girl.”

“I missed nothing.” the girl replied calmly, as she continued to walk forward pushing the hood of her cloak back to reveal her dark hair and brilliantly green eyes, she was not much older than Alena, and her skin looked milky white under the night sky. Alena had never seen anyone dressed liked her before; she wore a vest, skirt, and boots made of dark brown leather over a linen dress, and a dark grey hooded cloak, that was held in place by a jade leaf connected by two leaves made of silver.

She stopped several paces to the right of Alena, “Now leave the girl be, or I’ll put the next one through your eye.”

The warrior snortted in amusement at the threat, and spit on the ground between them where Alena had just been laying, “And why do you protect this demon of the night?  She is a fury, and will rip us both apart, or drive us mad for her amusement, if we give her the chance.”

“Do you really think a fury would cower from a lone soldier?”

The warrior looked down at Alena where she remained on the ground.  He saw the fear in her eyes, and the trembeling of her lower lip as she tried to maintain some semblance of composure.  “She’s deceitful.  It’s all part of her game. We are better to kill her and be safe.”

“So you would kill an innocent girl?”

“If she is an innocent girl.”

“And what makes you think she isn’t?”

“She’s still alive on this island.”

“So are you.”

“Yes, but none of my men are.  They were all driven to madness after our ship ran aground here five days ago.  These were battle hardened men, and after a few days on this island they turned on each other, until no one was left alive.”

“Except you.” the girl confronted him, still not willing to lower her bow.

“I am Helios, brother of Neoptolemus, and son of Achilles. I have battled the cyclops that live in the land of Polyphemus, and I have slain the hyrda that dwell in the swamps of Lerna. I am not so easily killed.” Helios extends his arm, leveling the point of his sword with the girl aiming an arrow at him.  “Now, who are you? and how do you come to be in this place?”

The girl lowers her bow, but does not un-notch the arrow, “My name is Keira, I am a shieldmadien from Avalon. I was but one of a band of warriors sent by Morgan le Fay to investiage the rumors that a jotun was in the high mountains, preparing to attack the castle.  But there was no frost giant.  The queen had been tricked by Loki, and he set a blizzard on us so thick, and with winds howling so loud, we could neither see nor hear each other.  When the storm finally broke I found myself here.  That was three days ago.”

Helios lowers his sword, and looks to Alena who is still seated on the ground.  “And what about you, if you are not some demon trying to trick us, then how did you come to be in this wretched place?”

“I don’t know.” Alena offers meekly.

“Convenient.” Helios retorts as he slides his sword back into its seath and steps forward to pull his spear from the ground before turning to face Alena.

The emotional overload of the day was finally too much for Alena as she released the first sob, and the tears that had been filling her eyes finally spilled over and ran down her cheeks.  “I was at my mother’s funeral.” she managed to get out in a voice that cracked under the weight of what she had been through.  “I was standing alone at her funeral pyre, staring into the flames, and then I woke up here in the forest.” With that Alena fully broke down, pulling her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, and burying her face.

“That’s enough.” Kieara told Helios as she kneeled beside Alena.

In a huff Helios turned and went to inspect the treeline, not satisfied that they weren’t being watched by something.

“Dry your eyes child.” Kieara spoke softly to Alena, “Save your tears, they’ll do you no good here.  We are all lost together.” Alena stops crying, and looks at Helios as he peers back into the forest. Kiera continues,”Ignore him, he is exhausted from battle, and no longer has his wits about him.  I will not let him harm you.”