Many Hands Make Enlightened Work

We walked across the summer courtyard, two t-shirt youth among many, to stand before the spacious building. Stairs upon stairs climbed to the fountain’s zenith and proposed rooftop garden.

Commands came and we moved to assemble ourselves, each teenager on a stair, an arms-width apart. You: a little more. You: a little less.

Then, hand to hand to hand we passed a bucket’s brigade of grass. Smiling volunteers moved sod and flower from truck to tippy top.

Now, years later, our children look up. They marvel at roof-ledge bush and sky-reach trees, and the story that grew them there.

Conference Center

Photograph by Craig Dimond © IRI

Remembered for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt this week.

June 13, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the work of many hands. Is it a cooperative effort or something else? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 18, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

The Cell of Snares

You received a letter from the state explaining you were chosen in a lottery to come and rescue an animal. The shelter is being closed due to the owner’s untimely death and his will instructed for his estate to be divided up randomly. Being the animal lover you are, you decide to follow up on this mystery and pop on down to look at a potential pet or two. The address typed on the back of the letter is unfamiliar to you, but your Saturday is wide open. You fill up your gas tank and head out. Why not?

Once you reach the destination, a prison complex at the literal end of the road, all outside communication is cut off and the ‘animals’ are not quite what they seem

—–

Despite my rising alarm at the lack of guards, cell phone service, working car, existence of a cassette player, gouge marks, shackled creature that shapeshifts –Okay, okay, that’s enough thinking that way. I focus, instead, on the gently swinging ivy above me. I breathe in and out. “All right, Beth,” I whisper to myself. “Think positively. What can you control?” –Not that my therapist ever suggested I’d literally be trapped like this, with potential death a mere inchesBreathe, Beth, breathe! Maybe Dr. Querk should have had me run through a few practical situations, but it’s too late to consider that now.

*Greetings, traveler and welcome to The Prison for Dangerous…* begins playing for the sixth time since I entered the creepy room. Nothing irritates me more than repetition, even a supernatural being that might be able to tear my head off. I turn to the apparition within the first cell and glare daggers at it.

“KNOCK IT OFF!” I bellow.

The being within blinks a thousand rainbow eyes at me, squawks, and disappears. I stand on my toes to see where it’s gone: into a bottom corner, rodent-like, somehow still shackled. The tape has stopped. I give the mouse thing a stern nod, in case it gets any ideas.

I let my breath out and look around again. Now fully within the room, I can see that Freaky’s box isn’t the only one with damage to the interior. Of the ten cells, only one or two seem undamaged. Box Four, near the end on the left side, has scorch marks. Number Six -or One, depending on how one wished to count- to the right is dark and molding. The last cell in the row to the right is not only scraped and dented, but the cause of the damage is clearly visible in the form of a large, glowering minotaur.

“Well, Beth, are any minotaurs not glowering?” I tease. A chittering laugh just beyond the shapeshifter draws me forward. “It’s fine. They can’t get out,” I say as I walk, though I certainly won’t go tap on #10’s glass to test my theory.

As I near the source of the laughing, I note signs attached to the outside of each cell. The first reads:

SHIFTER

Charles is the perfect companion. He not only fits most occasions, he fits any occasion or any species. Ever wanted a rabbit one day, then a pony the next? Charles is right for you!

I laugh a bit; again, echoed by Cell Two. “Are they serious?” I ask the open room. It reads just like the plaques at the animal shelter in town but, surely, I can’t literally walk out with something as incredible as a shapeshifter?

I glance at the affixed plaque of #2:

SPRITE

Honeyblossom is the light of the party or room. Besides a natural effervescent personality, she has a natural effervescence. A bit flighty, Honeyblossom would do well in an open environment without the temptation of mischief.

A tiny pair of eyes peers over the sign through the glass front. They blink and a tiny nose and grinning mouth appear as well. I smile a bit in return but immediately look away. Sprites and mischief are practically synonymous; sorry, Honeyblossom.

Mostly due to the very large, heavily-breathing presence on the end, I examine the other labels from a safe distance. They outline a Mouther, Phoenix, Satori, Boggart, Imp, Baby Dragon, Unicorn, Tokoloshe, Taniwha, and that Minotaur. I catch names like Chatterbox, Imka, and Bob.

I also see that the door of the unicorn’s cell is slightly ajar; her sign askew. Either I am not the first visitor to this strange place, or Rainbow Sparkles, III figured things out on her own… I look around, twitching this way and that. My eyes meet those of a few remaining creatures and no one else, whether that’s a comforting audience or not.

“Oh-kay,” I exhale. Before Charles stopped the recorded message, it’d said all I had to do was activate a cell with my letter. After that, the creature inside was mine. But, do I want to bring one of these home? A Satori was pretty awesome in theory; in practice, not so much. He’d likely run away or hide, knowing precisely when I meant to throw him in the tub or tell him it was time for bed. And no way would I consider bringing home something larger than my car.

Which left at least three animals I’d dreamed about since childhood. Three mythical creatures I’d pored over in storybooks and often said aloud, “Oh, I wish it was real!” Three that would be really awesome to own.

One of those, if J.K. Rowling were correct, that would make the use of an exit vehicle unnecessary.

“What the heck, Beth? The letter and the recording said to choose one.” I pull the crumpled bunch of papers from my back pocket and smooth them out. Before I can change my mind, I walk toward the smoking glass of Cell #4.

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—–

This was in response to Peregrine Arc’s story prompt. You can join in, too! Just click here to read her amazing introduction.

 

Photo Credit:
Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens

The Gatehouse

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“…and this, ladies and gentlemen, is where the family most oft exited the manor if they wished a stroll down the North side of their estate…”

Well-trained and well-rounded tourist faces followed their guide’s directing hand, staring out the open side door. A few, “Oohs” and phone-clicks captured the view but most eyes slid back, puppy-eyed, to the mustachioed leader. Meredith glanced up from examining the iron stove but the subservient herd completely blocked the opening. She’d look once they trundled on.

“Over here,” the guide continued, “In this alcove, one finds a few items the family may have used for such an excursion.”

*Click* *click* captured the made-in-China umbrellas and slickers hanging on IKEA hooks. Meredith rolled her eyes.

“Shall we continue on to the servants’ quarters?” Murmurs of assent answered him. The tour guide turned smartly and ducked up a narrow set of stairs. “Mind the head,” came back to them.

“And the waist,” Meredith mumbled, eyeing the first few tourists and wondering how they’d get through the space. She stopped, her garden view finally unobstructed. Some force, some memory, some power held her; staring out the opening.

I’ve been here before, she thought. She knew.

But how ridiculous. This was her first visit to England. It was her first visit overseas at all, only made possible by an impulsive coworker’s double-booking. Only Karen would be wealthy and ignorant enough to pay for two vacations in the same week. A similar impulse to now had compelled Meredith to take Karen up on her discounted offer…

Meredith stepped nearer the exit, still not quite in control of her mind or self. Was it the worn, polished stone path; the neat, trim, British grass; or the charming stone brickwork of the cottagelike gate house before her? What reminded her, drew her, pulled at her?

Her eyes flitted to the arched, weather-beaten wood door. Her feet sandaled down the path toward it. From so near the building, she could see and appreciate its age but also the original care and detail put into its workmanship. She could not imagine building the walls and windows, peaks and arch, all with a barrow-full of tools and only the hands God gave you.

Simon. Simon had built the gatehouse. He’d made the door. How she knew that, Meredith could only guess. The further she walked away from the tour group and the closer she drew to outside, the more antique memories trickled into her mind.

Father had asked Simon to build it on the East side but Mother had wished it here, atop a slight knoll before the moors began. Meredith’s pace quickened. The afternoon sunlight danced into her eyes just as she pressed her hands against the garden door and pushed.

“Meredith?” she raised a gloved hand to shade against the bright light to her left. There, beneath a tree, leaned a surprised young man in riding gear.

“Edmund,” she breathed. Recalling herself, she corrected with, “Good afternoon, Mr. Manfield.”

He stood away from the tree and strode toward her in haste. Removing his cap and taking her hand in his, he said, “But, your father said you never again desired my company.” His eyes searched her face beneath her hat brim, imploring.

Meredith could scarcely think above her rising excitement and beating heart. Father, father… She met Edmund’s gaze, blushed, looked away.

“What is it, Mere -Miss Howard?”

“Father,” she began. “‘Twas all Father’s doing. He forbade me to speak with you, but-” Here, she drew enough courage to meet his gaze once more. “I know that, if I heed his warnings, I shall be miserable the remainder of my days.”

A smile brushed against Edmund’s lips and lit his eyes more warmly still. It came again, staying this time. She’d always loved his smile.

He kneeled, right there amoungst the heather and the wet grasses. “Meredith Howard, I could never live, knowing I were the cause of a lifetime of misery.” Smiling wider, he said, “I will go and speak with your father -this very moment- with you by my side.”

Rising, he grasped her hand more firmly. She felt his strength and love through both their gloves as, together, they walked back to the arched wood door. Edmund pulled it open and she glanced at it as they passed. Simon had just stained it, and it looked nearly new.

Remembered for Sue Vincent‘s Thursday photo prompt: transition.

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens

The Choice of Three: Roll Your Initiative

Continued from Peregrine Arc’s writing prompt….

Although a heavy, musty dust chokes the corners and edges of every room in the derelict house; the silver pocket watch, gold candelabra, and string of pearls upon the dresser appear untouched. I read the note again:

You who so boldly enter this realm, lay down your tools and be away from this hell. 

But should you still keep Adam’s vain, stay awhile and forego your shame.

An object of three you see with your mortal eyes. Which one shall be your coveted prize?

My senses feel heightened as my anxiety levels rise. Who left this note? These objects? Most importantly, I wonder at who I chased. What I chased. Where did he go?

Was there a ‘someone’ at all?

Despite my worries, I can’t help but feel intrigued by the message and pristine items before me. I read the words for a third time and wonder what they mean. “Lay down (my) tools?” “This hell?” That sounds serious. What is “Adam’s vain?”

My imagination, though tickled, reverts back to teenage years spent tucked in Johnny Platt’s musty basement. The dim lamp we plugged into about three extension cords shone pewter figurine shadows across our wet-erase marker map.

“Roll your initiative,” Johnny’s friend, Dwight, said with glee. We all knew what that meant: we’d stirred up trouble, and we had to fight it.

After a terrible battle of 3,872 orcs; Paladin, Ranger, Fighter, and Thief emerged victorious. Our Mage, on the other hand, succumbed to a curse inflicted in the last encounter; Mike was busily rolling up another character as Dwight listed our prizes.

“There’re 4 healing potions, 500 gold, a jeweled dagger, and a ring.” The Dungeon Master’s eyes glittered as much as the dagger surely did.

“Are they magic?” Kevin, the thief, always wanted to know.

Dwight shrugged. “Run a check.”

Johnny gave him a look. “We can’t. Mike’s dead.”

“I know!” Kevin said. “I’ll try them out.” Addressing Dwight, he declared, “My character examines the dagger.”

As per usual, Dwight rolled a die behind his book. His face was impassive. “It looks expensive.”

“All right; I’ll keep it.” As I and the others in our group began protesting, Kevin waved a hand. “I’m gonna split the costs once I sell it!” We settled down, ever wary of the dodgy thief. “Now,” he continued, “I’m going to put on the ring.”

Another masked roll from the DM clattered on the table. He cleared his throat and we could hear the excited tone Dwight always had trouble hiding when something unexpected happened in the campaign. Something that was usually the result of a stupid decision. We were doomed. “You begin to feel rather strange… like the world has never made sense and now you see clearly. You eye each of your party members jealously; but, never fear -you’ll get what’s yours once they’re asleep….”

“Crap, man!” I said.

“What?” Kevin asked in a panic.

“Change your alignment on your sheet,” Dwight grinned. He stroked his Machiavellian chin. “You’re now Chaotic Evil…”

A small noise from a corner brings my attention back to the present. I turn but only see shadows. Perhaps a section of flooring gave way there, as well. Who knows how many panels I broke in my mad rush to this strange, spooky nursery?

As my eyes pass over the note and the items it references, my fingers twitch a bit.

Kevin ended up murdering everyone but the Paladin in our group. Johnny only survived by the divine influence of his deity, thus finishing off the little thief and his ring in the ensuing Blessing.

My fingers quiet. No, not worth it. If there’s one thing D&D taught me, it was to never take chances with a strange object.

I cast my gaze around the room as I back out of it, even stealing glances over my shoulders. I’ve seen enough scary movies to know that one ought to never not look a certain direction. That’s how you end up getting stuffed in a bathtub by a dark, long-haired ex-lover of your husband.

My return to the porch is less hasty than my leaving of it, particularly since I’d left random, haphazard holes in the hallways and had to dodge them. I look at one in passing but only see swirling, pitch-dark dust. I wonder how far I might have fallen if I’d broken through.

Not soon enough, I regain the porch and my lunch. The rain is still falling, though not in torrents. I won’t be able to finish mowing with wet grass. “Reschedule, it is,” I tell the vacant property. Stooping, I pack up my lunch and self and rise and head down the creaking porch steps. I pass the ancient lawn mower, still parked near the hawthorn bush. I push it into the bush; perhaps that will stave off some rust.

As I near my car the rain slackens and a waterlogged sun peeks out. I can’t help but look back. I see the old, old house; yellow, peeling paint muted in the recent showers. Just before I get into the driver’s seat, I catch a movement from an upstairs window.

I look back, heart racing a mile a minute, but there’s nothing. It’s only a gold candelabra, glinting in the new light.

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Photo Credit:
Rikki Austin

Smells Like Reanimated Spirits

You’re at a burial, dressed in shoes you didn’t have time to polish or lace up correctly. It’s a grey sort of day, overcast with rain coming soon. They’re lowering the casket into the ground and all you can do is stare at the stubborn knot in your shoelaces.

Someone lights up a cigarette after the service is over and you move away to avoid the smoke. Your heels slip into the soft ground and you get mud on the hemline of your clothes. You stop to catch your breath after a long day and close your eyes. You smell rain in the air.

There’s a piano you can hear in the nearby chapel playing a soft tune. You think they’re playing “Amazing Grace” and then it changes. A sudden thought strikes you: “I must get back into the car before the last note. Once the last note plays, it’ll start raining.”

You’re heading back to the car when you see a man standing at the fence. He’s dressed in overhauls and a flannel shirt, looking directly at you. You glance away but are drawn back by the man’s intense stare. He’s holding something in his hand. A letter? A book? You can’t tell. You feel you must find out, before the last piano note…

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Dodging headstones and mushy half-buried plots alike, you walk to the fence. And the man. Conveniently, they are both in the same direction. As you walk, you wonder at the prevalence of recently-turned earth. Just how many people have died lately?

The eerie piano playing from the chapel plays background beat to your even tread. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will do that to a person, even if it’s a piano cover version and therefore lacks that awesome bass guitar.

Your attention draws back to the overall man who is fascinated with staring. Some people clearly need a hobby, especially since there are a lot more interesting things to stare at than a muddy-hemmed, sneaker-clad burial-crasher like you. You get closer and closer, noting his lack of blinking; his lack of attention on a bird that poops on his shoulder or on a passing dog that relieves itself on his trouser leg.

Just before you call out to him, his image blips and reloads. He is a clean, staring man again, proferring a flat object that is meant to look like a book. Thunder rumbles nearby, and he finally glances to the grey and heavy clouds. His gaze returns to you, who have stopped just before the projection of him.

“244224,” he says, monotone. “42,” he adds. Then, “2442.” He beeps.

You roll your humanoid eyes, reminded of how your familial assigners could not be happy with a short sequence like all the others. “Yes?”

“Precipitation imminent. Nirvana ending. Accept reanimation.” *Beep*

Your eyebrows raise. “Reanimation??”

“Affirmative.” He pauses, then remembers to *Beep!*

You look back and around at all the mounds of dirt, and swallow. It’s not easy considering the difficulties the body emulators had in transferring your normal shape to a humanoid form, but you manage. The sky growls again. A spot of earth near you seems to as well, but perhaps it’s the simulated imagination you’re equipped with.

Whipping back around to the hologram, you place your right forearm directly over the outstretched object in its hand image. The flat object glares a red light of warning. You realign. Still red. The growling from below ground is definitely not just your imagination now and you grit your teeth in frustration.

“Please align to shape,” the ‘man’ intones.

You try again and get the angry light again.

“Please align to shape,” he repeats.

Just as a very visible hand claws through the mud to your side and just as the final lingering notes of the piano are played, the tablet magically accepts your forearm’s outline and turns blue. “Code accepted.”

Your humanoid form releases a sigh of relief just before dematerializing. Your normal self, meanwhile, has a final, comforting thought. I am so glad that finally activated. Earth’s a real downer during a zombie apocalypse.

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From the story prompt beginning shared by the highly-imaginative, amazing, wonderful, and fantastic Peregrine Arc.

You can play, too! The submission window closes on April 12.

 

Photo Credits:
Daniel Jensen
Wendy Scofield

Silent but Tardy

Stan heard his door’s assailant before the knocking; a shush-shush against the cement leading to his flat. He rose; walked; opened; stared. There, upon his stoop, was Death himself.

“Er,” Stan managed. What does one say to Death?

In what should have been an anticipated reaction, Stan’s guest only stared.

Stan scuffed a foot against his carpet. He bit his lip. Swung his arms.

Death still stared.

“So….” Stan tried. “May I help you?”

A nod. Silence.

Stan hadn’t thought Death would be so awkward. *Ahem* “How so?”

Impossible as it seemed; Stan knew, somehow, that his somber companion frowned in thought. Death reached a skeletal hand from draping cloak-sleeve to internal robe and withdrew a scrap of parchment. Hand and paper extended toward Stan.

Stan received the paper; declined the hand. Stan Dubrough, 17:00, he read. His palms felt chill and his body followed right after. Both jumped at Death’s bony finger, tapping to point at the name. His name: Stan Dubrough.

“That’s-” Stan squeaked. “That’s me.”

His guest’s other hand appeared from near the door-post. It gripped an awful, glinting scythe.

“The time’s not right, though,” Stan said, as though observing the weather.

The scythe paused. Stan sensed confusion. He also, inexplicably, recalled his mother’s exasperated reprimand, “Always a stickler for accuracy, aren’t you, Stan?”

Death stared. Asking.

“It says ’17:00,’ right?”

A slow nod.

“And, that’s 5 p.m.; yes?”

Nod.

“Well,” Stan concluded in a cheery tone, “It’s now going on 6.” He chuckled a bit till he recalled who his visitor was, and then wisely swallowed. “Hm; yes. Thing is: you’re a bit late.”

If a dark-cloaked being without voice could look gobsmacked, Death did. Without a word, he extended his non-scythe hand. Stan returned the paper and watched it disappear within the cloak folds. Then, just as silently, Death and his scythe turned and left.

Stan listened to the shush-shush of departure turn the corner before shutting his door. Returning to his couch seat, another of his mother’s oft-spoken sayings came to mind: “Stan, you’re so bent on being right you’d tell Death himself if he were late.”

“Well, mum,” he said, looking to the urn atop his mantel, “Looks like you were right after all.”

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Submitted, at the last, for The 2019 Bloggers Bash Competition.

 

Photo Credit:
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Crescent Illusions

“Hey! Wait up!” Pal gasped out the request, to no avail. The strange boy turned the edge beyond his view, taking all sight and sound of his movement with his retreating form. Pal leaned over his knees in crouched, deep-breathing pain from the chase. His heavy gasps echoed inside his helmet.

He’d need to keep going, he knew. He only had a few tics until -too late. Before his ground-pointed eyes, everything shifted and morphed. If his headgear were not equipped with anti-vertigo software, Pal would have retched at the twisting, swarming, mixing colors and land forms. He had no idea how the boy he pursued, apparently unencumbered by gear, could continue on through these conditions. How the boy could move so quickly. How the boy even existed, really.

Pal looked up from the sky beneath his feet, noted the re-orientation of his surroundings, and promptly crashed to the surface above him. “Eurgh,” he groaned, feeling the sluggishness and some of the bruising while his suit’s systems kicked in. He rose as it mended; scouted around.

Before this last shift he had been skidding around contoured shapes that rose from sand-like material. The ambient light had been annoyingly bright, yet also a pleasant shade of pink. Now, Pal noted, he seemed to be in a city. This city was unlike any he’d been in before, but not unlike images he’d studied at elementary training. “These are buildings,” his memory heard an artificial instructor note. “Homo sapiens sapiens inhabited and busied itself within these structures.”

Keeping his feet moving forward, Pal tilted his head back. The buildings reached beyond his sight. What a miserable, backwards way to exist. He supposed all species must start somewhere, but could never understand why his ancestors’ timeline progressed from perfection to disaster. Why had his progenitors constantly sought what was worse?

He heard a sound and snapped to attention. A face with large, crescent eyes peered at him from around a building just ahead. The boy.

Pal sprinted without thought toward his quarry. The boy rushed from hiding and pulled ahead, as he had since Pal first materialized and saw him. Both ran down the middle space between the tall, tall structures to either side. The ground felt soft, appeared white. Pal could see his footfalls leaving imprints in the material, though the boy’s odd tread did not. The dark shapes to either side seemed to melt away from them as they passed; no, they were melting away. Pal glanced right and left as he ran, witnessing the anomaly.

He wondered, yet again, what this destination really was. Clearly, it was not merely a physical location. No location they’d researched had behaved as this place did; morphing, moving, and melting like a living optical illusion.

Pal knew he was nearly at the end of his exploratory tic and would dissolve back to Central soon. He set his jaw, determined to gather more information before that happened. Since the ever-changing location proved intangible for collection purposes, Pal sought to catch the one constant he had encountered: the boy.

His suit worked overtime to compensate for energy and nitrogen loss. At his current rate, he would exhaust both and need to rest as he had before. And before that. And, before that. Surely, this time, he could draw near enough to catch the boy. Surely, he could get answers to return with.

The atmosphere darkened. A sound similar to a loud clap came from ahead, from the boy. To Pal’s surprise, the sky in front of them both molded into a dark sphere upon the dark of the air. Totally black at first; an outline of winking light grew to shine from the base and sides of the sphere.

As they drew nearer, Pal felt himself drawn to the new anomaly. Literally. The sensation felt like the projection arm of a spacecraft. He fought a natural panic, but explorer training calmed his initial reactions. “Always act decisively within your means,” another memory of an artificial instructor intoned. Pal ran on.

His wrist beeped a warning: a mere moment till dissolvement.

He strove to move more quickly but his speed was no longer his own. The boy and he were being pulled inexorably toward the eclipsed horizon. The buildings melted faster. Pal’s treads in the groundstuff deepened and blurred. His visuals clouded somewhat at the edges as he tried to keep the boy in sight.

Another beep sounded, then another. It was time.

Just as Pal’s body began to piece to data for dissolving, he saw the most unusual illusion of them all: an inverted flip of boy, buildings, sphere, and sky. Where once he knew the dark outlines of running youth and landscape; Pal saw the whitespace image of a gaping, grinning face. A face that swallowed the boy. A face that looked at him.

 


Written in response to D. Wallace Peach‘s extremely popular prompt. She just might get all 300 daily responses posted before she decides that April would be a good time for a vacation…

A Ghost of a Pinned Chance

For this week’s prompt, we’re at a restaurant for lunch. One of those local businesses, with an antique fireplace in your favorite room to eat in. The restaurant, you see, is inside a very old house, one with a murky, somewhat spooky, history. The restaurant is even part of the village’s ghost tour at Halloween time every year. But that’s all nonsense, right?….. (Read the rest of the opening prompt here.)

You eye the door. It’s solid, naturally, being a door and all. Still, if Lara Croft can fist-punch a granite statute, this skeleton-keyed obstruction shouldn’t stand much chance against a vegan-powered, Umbrella Academy-watching powerhouse like you.

Unfortunately, an attempted shift of your center of gravity reminds you that about three feet of petticoats and lace obstruct any sudden movement. If not for the witch-woman who first introduced you to The Door, you would have fallen in a puffy white heap. “Steady, Beatrice,” she admonishes. Then, some expression or resolve of your eyebrows catches her attention. “I wouldn’t try fainting again, Miss Pondewaste. Your father supplied me with smelling-salts.”

With a sniff, your matron of imprisonment opens the door. She hustles you out, arm firmly round your brocaded waist. “Not that he would consider such an event occurring that I would need smelling salts…” the stern woman mumbles as you attempt to walk down a narrow hall.

You feel too distracted to pay her much attention. The walls, formerly painted and hung with cheap printer paper pictures of vintage times, are now wallpapered. Sad, serious paintings hang in proper frames at measured spaces along the papering. A spindly-legged end table supports a flickering oil lantern atop an embroidered cloth. Its light plays across the delicate white stitchings of your dress.

Your dress! You stop mid-shush to admire the extensive needlework and lacework arms. How many slave laborers had to give their lives to produce this thing? “Now, Miss Beatrice,” Mean Lady hisses. Your tailing ladies-in-waiting snicker unprofessionally behind you, stopping at a quick glance from your captor.

Against any will you might have had, she drags you to the end of the hall. What is going on? What can I do? you wonder. Dimlit walls and antique furnishings distract and confuse you. Your tormentor walks you forward relentlessly, grunting with the effort and chastening you that, “It’s just the entry, for Pity’s sake!”

As a sunlight-outlined door flanked by sentry windows draws imminently close, you realize that something sharp is within your hand. You’ve been caressing it as you walked, oblivious to the action.

Your tread slows, even against the push of Mean Lady. You draw your hand before your face and squint to focus on the object in question. It’s the sewing pin, the one you picked up from a restaurant floor a few centuries hence.

“What have you got, Beatrice?”

As your fingers slip down the sides of the pin and you hold it aloft in the light, her eyes widen. Her eyebrows raise. “Where did you get that? Just give it here; I’ll -” her clawlike hand reaches to take it but instinct tells you to keep it away from her. You move it just as she snatches.

“Beatri- Miss Pondewaste! Hand it over this instance!” She makes another grab. Very unladlylike.

You turn your body to help shield against her reachings and make a split-second decision. With the aid of the other hand, you snap the pin in half. *Snit*

The Mean Lady’s gasp is the last thing you hear before blacking out.

The next thing you hear, of course, is that too-good-looking server’s voice, “Mushroom risotto, just as you ordered.” A plate clinks to the table in front of you and its steaming contents are the first, blessed thing you see. After that is the gorgeous server’s face. Nothing like the present.

“Oh, hey,” he says suddenly. “Did you drop something?” He stoops to the floor and retrieves two broken halves of a sewing pin.

“No!” you nearly yell. Seeing his confusion and surprise, you repeat it more calmly. “No, thank you.” You take up your napkin and lay it on your lap. “Go ahead and just throw it away.”

He shrugs and walks away, leaving you to your risotto. It’s a good thing Mean Lady isn’t there to witness your eating it, because you’re too hungry to mind many manners.

In response to Peregrine Arc‘s writing prompt. What an imagination!

Freddy and Teddy’s Valentines

Freddy and Teddy were best friends. They lived on the same street, liked the same candy, and loved the same robots movie. They even went to the same school, and sat behind each other in the same second grade class.

Valentine’s Day was the very next day and both boys were excited.

After school, their moms gave them 32 robot cards. Each spent a while tearing cards apart and writing “Freddy” or “Teddy” too many times.

The next morning, each got ready then walked to school together.

“I hope I didn’t skip anyone,” Freddy joked.

“Me, too,” Teddy laughed.

But later that afternoon, Teddy wasn’t laughing. He had dumped out all his Valentines only to find one missing.

There was no card from Freddy.

Teddy felt bad. “Freddy,” he said, “Why did you forget me?”

“What?” Freddy asked. Turning around, he saw Teddy’s frown. He felt bad. “I’m sorry, Teddy. I didn’t mean to.” Then, his eyes lit up. Freddy turned back to his desk, pulled a red paper from inside, cut carefully, and scribbled quickly.

Facing his best friend, he gave him a giant red heart. It read Best Friends. There was even a picture of a robot.

“Thanks, Freddy,” Teddy said, feeling better.

“You’re welcome,” Freddy said, happy to see Teddy smiling again.

 

Submitted for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny Contest.

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The Case of the Kitchen Cacophony

Frank stopped to listen; the drip drip drip of the old faucet echoing in an empty kitchen. A possibly empty kitchen, of course. Frank remembered The Escapade of ’18 like it was last year and wasn’t taking any chances.

He peered around a finger-smudged corner; first an ear, then his cheek, then his left eye.

Now that his ear was exposed, a click click click from the old kitchen clock played backup music to the faucet. A whirr whirr swoosh whispered from beyond the old kitchen window. An ergh creak moan drifted from the old kitchen floor.

Now that his eye was exposed, he watched the glint squint of dancing stove light caught in leaking faucet drips. He saw the spooky lift and shake of branches sighing in window wind. His attention flicked to the stuttering movement of clock hand inchings. His feet felt, surely, an undulation or two from the beams beneath them in the groaning floor.

What ear and eye did not see, to their owner’s relief, was any sign of HER. Frank sighed softly. Softly, so as not to alert HER to his presence.

His left sneaker inched to and around his peering-corner. Amidst the drip click whoosh creak of kitchen cacophony his squeak-toed sneakers barely spoke. Soon; his left arm, knee, side, and nose came out. He still saw no whole person; no HER. He decided to fully enter.

Thus he stood, midst stove light shadows and singing sighs. Thus he found things just as he spied. Thus he moved, more stealthily still, across an ergh creak moan floor-sea in squeak squeak shoes past click click hands and drip drip sink.

And reached the silent ceramic pot, alone. Alone, with the sounds; which now, for dramatic suspense, all held their noise and watched.

He stretched an arm.

He opened a fist.

He grasped the white ceramic lid.

He lifted.

Standing just a bit taller on tips of toes, Frank used his eyes to peer inside.

And gasped.

All at once, the old kitchen orchestra strummed to life. All at once, they played in time. And, as Frank returned ‘cross noisome space, their song came clear to his sad ear; a rhyme he knew from preschool years yet hadn’t recalled till now it played in drip click moan:

♪Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?♫

And, sad little Frank answered truthfully, “Not me.”

 

Thanks to Peregrine Arc, for a great prompt idea.

For this week’s prompt, I want you to imagine you are a thief. Whatever motive you have, good, bad, or both, is up to you. Whatever setting and condition the safe is in is also up to you. It could be underwater, in a mine, in a delapidated mansion…Take the wheel of literature and drive us there!

But here’s the twist: you don’t get what’s inside the safe. Do you crack it and the contents are missing? Or do you lose your nerve and get caught? Ponderings. Take it and fly and add a psychological twist for $1000, Alex.