It sat out in the middle of nowhere. Empty, abandoned, it was representative of the whole town. Few people remained, but what was left of this little strip mall still got quite a bit of attention.
Graffiti artists plied their trade without fear of legal trouble. No one cared. The building had been covered, painted over, repainted so many times that there was no way of knowing how it had looked originally.
Messages in code were left. The occasional foul language was quickly painted over. Sometimes, artists worked together to create murals.
Zing and Zang sat on a porch step, gazing high up into the sky.
“What on Earth!” Zing exclaimed.
“No idea,” replied Zang.
“Earth people are weird,” said Zing.
“Got that right,” said Zang.
“Well, after our latest narrow escape, I guess we can’t say much. Good thing we can teleport. That was a MESS when the Leaning Tower crashed!”
I’m back, but I don’t know for how long. Things are a bit hectic around here, with my son and his wife staying with us. Finding quiet time to write is difficult. They went South this week to be with J’s mom for her birthday, so I have a little more time to myself. I’ve missed being here! I think this is the longest I’ve been away since I started with this prompt several years ago. Good to see you all again 🙂
(You hear news of your next-door neighbor vanishing without a trace.)
Wendy was about as close with her next-door neighbor as anyone could expect. Janet was a recluse. She allowed very few people to cross her boundaries, and most gave up trying in pretty short order. Janet wasn’t in-your-face rude or discourteous. She was. . . . . distant. Always. Wendy had learned to watch Janet’s eyes. There’s dull; there’s crushingly sad; there’s blank; and there’s empty. Empty was the worst. Wendy knew to keep her distance when Janet had empty eyes.
There were no children. Janet had a husband, but he left before daylight and came home after dark, regardless of the season or daylight saving time. He always pulled the car into his garage and closed the garage door as soon as his rear bumper was clear.
There was very little noise from their house. Now and then, the volume of the television would go loud enough to be heard in Wendy’s living room, but usually it was just very quiet. Lights would be switched off in one room, switched on in another. The bathroom light shone dimly through a high opaque window. The other rooms in the house were thickly draped, with only a little light coming around the edges of the windows.
Janet had agreed, hesitantly, to enter Janet’s house for afternoon coffee or tea. She was edgy, though, and clearly uncomfortable. She kept her eyes on her watch, and after just enough time for one cup of coffee, she would jump up and say,”I have to get dinner started. Thanks! ‘Bye!” She would flit away like a shadow, leaving Wendy to wonder if she’d really been there at all.
One day it all came crumbling down. When Wendy heard a tapping at her back door, she looked out the window and saw someone she didn’t recognize. Swollen eyes, patchy hair, nose crushed out of shape. Bruised cheeks, blood, snot and tears. She opened the door, ready to take Janet’s arm and pull her inside. But Janet flinched, and Wendy realized her arm was broken.
“Janet, my dear, please come in. What on earth—-?”
Janet edged inside. She wouldn’t sit down. “I-I-help me? P-please!” She sank to her knees, unable to remain standing.
Wendy said, “Who should I call? Do you want me to take you to the hospital? To the ER? Is anything else broken?” Wendy was walking toward the phone on her kitchen counter when she glanced back and saw the blood on Janet’s top, which was sticking to her back. She thought she might throw up at the realization of what had happened, and the sudden desire she had to commit mayhem on Janet’s husband.
“Did he do this to you? Your husband?” Wendy realized she didn’t even know the man’s name! Janet had never, ever said his name!
Janet nodded, tears spurting from her eyes, her chest heaving with her rapid breathing. Janet punched in the 911 emergency code and asked for an ambulance. It was there in less than ten minutes, and a couple of young-looking EMT’s carefully helped Janet from her knees, laying her gently on their gurney. Still, she winced and cried out.
One of the young men said to Wendy, “Ma’am, we’re going to have to call the police on this one. Will you be here to make a statement within the next hour or so?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll be here all day if that’s necessary.” They thanked her and left. Wendy called her husband at work, something she rarely did. “Can you come home, Jerry? I know it’s early, but I need you, and I’m afraid. Please!”
He was home in 15 minutes, and held her while she described her morning. “You’re sure it was her husband?” ‘
“Yes. She nodded her head when I asked her. Oh, Jerry, it was horrible. He hurt her so badly, I just couldn’t believe how awful—-“
Just at that moment, someone pounded on the front door. “Open up! Let me in or I’ll break this door down!” They knew it was their neighbor. Wendy said, “The police should be here any minute. What should we do?”
“I’ll take care of it,” said Jerry. There was fire in his eyes, and Wendy almost felt sorry for Janet’s husband. She knew what Jerry could do!
When Jerry opened the door, the other man pushed his way inside and demanded to know where “his woman” was. “You tell me, or I’ll take this place apart and you with it!” He was red in the face, with bulging eyes and quivering lips. The anger and hatred that poured off him was terrifying to Wendy. But Jerry blocked the man’s way, looked him right in the eyes, and said, “Listen to me. You touch my wife, or anything in this house and I will take you down. I won’t hold back.”
The two men stared at each other, neither one moving an inch. The neighbor switched his gaze to Wendy. “You know where she is! I know you do! You’ll tell me, or. . . . “
“I will not tell you a thing! Not a thing!” replied Wendy.
Their neighbor made as if to push past Jerry, but faster than he could imagine, Jerry had him on the floor, on his face, with his right arm twisted up toward his head. The man screamed, cursed, and threatened, but he couldn’t move. Jerry had a knee in the man’s back. “Wendy, the police are here. Go let them in, please.” When his captive started protesting again, Jerry cranked his arm up a little higher. “I’ll be happy to break it, you know. Just keep fighting.”
The police had their man cuffed and stuffed into their back seat in no time. One stayed outside to make sure he didn’t try anything stupid; the other took Wendy’s statement, then Jerry’s. “We’ll need you to come down to the station and sign your statements. Do you know where his wife is?”
“Yes!” said Wendy. I know, but I didn’t tell him. Can you keep her safe? Is he going to be locked up?”
“Ma’am, I can’t promise that, but I’m going to do my best to keep him locked up. I’ll keep you two informed. In the meantime–could you tell me, please, which hospital? And her full name?”
“You won’t tell him?” demanded Wendy.
“No, Ma’am, we won’t tell him. Now, please, which hospital?”
Everything about Davie drooped as he came in through the back door. He put his jacket on its hook, then his cap. Lunchbox on the table. And swiped a tear away quickly so Mom wouldn’t see.
But Mom always saw.
“Davie, what’s wrong?”
“Nuttin,” he lied, trying to sound older than he was.
“Okay, Well, when you’re ready to tell me, I’ll be working in the living room. You can grab some fruit for a snack.”
Mom had been through this before, with each of her children. Davie was the youngest of four, and his older brothers were always teasing him about being a baby. He couldn’t help it if he wasn’t as grown-up as they were! The older boys were all in sports, so Davie usually rode home alone on bus. This was a special time for Davie and his Mom, being alone together and not interrupted by more exciting stuff.
Davie finished his snack and wandered into the living room where Mom was doing some knitting. He leaned against her chair. She glanced up, smiling, and said, “Wanna talk?”
Davie paused, trying to think how to ask his question. Finally he said, “Mom, is it okay for a teacher to tease a kid?”
Mom tried never to answer too quickly. She knitted a few stitches. “Well, Davie, that depends on what happened before the teacher teased the kid. Had the kid been misbehaving?”
“Well, not ezackly. I mean, I–HE!–was jus’t kinda daydreaming, y’know?”
Mom smiled. “Yes, Davie, I know. Then what happened?”
“Well, I guess the teacher said my–HIS–name, and, uh, he didn’t hear her. Then she said it again, and this time—–“
“Davie, you can just say it was you, okay? Otherwise, it’s kind of like lying a little bit, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Davie bumped his toe against the carpet, took a deep breath. “Okay, so Miss Hatcher said my name again, and this time I heard her. I looked at her, and she was sort of smiling, but not really, y’know? Like she was a little bit mad at me.”
“And then what?”
“Well, she said, “Davie, what color is the sky in YOUR universe?” and everybody laughed. I did, too, ’cause I’m not a baby, but it made me feel bad, ’cause she wasn’t smiling a real smile.”
“What did you say, Davie?”
“I said, ‘I wish it was purple!'” and they all laughed again, ‘cept for Miss Hatcher, I guess she didn’t think it was funny.”
“Davie, I think sometimes teachers just get really tired, and maybe they don’t always say the kindest thing. I’ll tell you what, though. The sky in your universe can be any color at all that you want it to be! It can change every day, or every minute! Dreaming is okay, but not when you should be paying attention.”
That night, Davie dreamed that his sky WAS purple! It wasn’t too dark, just sort of like Mom’s lilacs. He loved it, and he was sorry when he woke up.
It was the day for art in school, a subject Davie loved. That day, they were given big sheets of soft paper, kind of not white, but not anything else, either. Davie wondered what color it was.
“Class,” said Miss Hatcher, “Today I want you to draw a picture of something you’d like to change from what it is, to what you see in your imagination. It can be anything at all!”
Davie went right to work. He loved color, loved to blend shades together to make more colors than were in his box of crayons. He’d figured out how to do it so it looked really pretty. He closed his eyes, remembering his dream of the purple-lilac sky. Then he went to work. Only he decided to use his big fat pieces of chalk instead of his crayons, and he had a wonderful time making his picture, with a moon, and stars, and some orangey clouds. And he used his purple chalk, but it seemed too dark, so he played around with some other chalks, combining them, and decided to use both red and blue together. Perfect! He scrubbed a fat line of pink, then scrubbed over it with blue, all the way across his paper. He was so excited about his lilac lavender sky!
Miss Hatcher stood beside Davie’s desk, looking at his picture. “Uh-oh,” thought Davie. “I bet she’s going to be mad at me,”
But she wasn’t. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she said, “Well, Davie, I see you found your purple sky. It’s beautiful. What a good artist you are!” And she plopped a big gold star on his paper, right above his moon.
Davie walked into the house later, his shoulders back and his head up. Mom was going to be so proud of him!
(Left at the altar, you decide to seek revenge on your ex.)
Nan waited in the foyer, dressed like a princess ready for her coronation. Her flowers, deep red roses, made her white dress even whiter. But as she waited, her hand clutching her father’s arm, her face whitened by degrees as she began to understand that she was not going to be married that day.
As she crumpled against her father, his arms tightened around her, holding her up. Floods of tears ruined her makeup, but it didn’t matter. She watched as her bridesmaids, confused and tearful, consulted each other and the groomsmen. No one seemed to have any answers. The murmuring of the guests began to rise in volume, until the preacher spoke to quiet them. He walked the aisle to meet the bride and her father. After a quick consultation, he went back to his place on the platform.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very sad and disappointed to announce that there will be no ceremony today. Our bride has asked that you enjoy visiting with each other in the reception room, where there is food waiting. We don’t want it to be wasted. Please give the family privacy today and in the coming days while they sort out what has–or has not–happened here today. Thank you.”
In her bedroom, Nan was mute and motionless. She played a video over and over in her mind, looking at every scene of her relationship with Adam from the very first time they met until the disaster of the wedding that didn’t happen. Her dress was stored away in her closet. Her flowers, over time, faded and died. She wanted to die with them. Never, ever had she felt so alone, abandoned, deserted. For it to happen at the crowning event of her life was unbearable.
Time, however, does help someone who is grieving to gain a different perspective. Nan went from hopelessness to determination and back again, circling around in her grief. Anger, denial, bitterness, guilt, depression, and finally acceptance. It was a long process, but bit by bit she began to piece her life back together. Her closest friends stayed in touch but gave her time and space. Her parents dealt with the shambles of an un-wedding.
Nan went back to work. She remained quiet, responding when she had to, until finally her boss called her into his office. She admired and respected him, an honest businessman who showed concern for all his employees.
“Nan, you know how sorry I am about your wedding. I know it will be some time yet before you feel ready to take on the world again. I just have one question for you: Are you going to let Adam’s lack of character control the rest of your life? If you do, he has won. You need to think about that.”
And she did. She hated hearing it, but she recognized the truth. Adam was controlling her thinking, her emotions, her behavior. For a long time, she had hoped to find a way to hurt him for hurting her, but she could never come up with anything good enough to take away her pain. Now, however, as she considered what her boss had said, she realized that her best revenge was to forgive him.
“Forgive? That means he gets away with it,” whispered a little voice in her head.
“He won’t ‘get away with it’ if I can begin to forgive him, and let it all go,” thought Nan. “Not if I can show him and myself that I am just fine without him; that what he did has made me stronger, not weaker.”
So she plucked up her courage and began to put her life back together. She socialized with friends, enjoyed physical activity that made her body strong, renewed her interests in things outside her working day.
Inevitably, the day came. There she was on the sidewalk, chatting with friends, walking past shops and stopping now and then to admire window displays, when it happened. Adam, his arm draped over the shoulders of an attractive young woman, came from the opposite direction. Nan saw him, stepped out in front of him, and enjoyed watching his face go pale as he approached.
“Adam! Hey, it’s been over a year since I saw you! I hope you’re doing well. And I want you to know that I forgive you, and that I’m doing just fine.” She gave him a megawatt smile and stepped out of his path.
She heard the girl at his side say, “Forgives you for what? What did she mean? ADAM!”
I’ve hit a serious dry spell. I need to get the creative juices flowing, and wouldn’t you know that as I was thinking about it, an invitation to look at 500 writing prompts to help beat writer’s block showed up in my email. How did they know? Well, what DON’T they know these days? Nothing is really private, folks, so be careful, little tongue, what you say. Especially if you have an Alexa, as I do, or some other gadget that can rat you out. Big Brother has become an e-reality.
Anyway, I won’t promise something every single day, like Sunday will probably be a day off. There are several categories, so this is the first prompt from the first category: Mystery and Thriller.
(You find strange, muddy footprints leading up to your front door.)
Darla struggled with her bags, purse, and keys. She tried to arrange things so that she could put her key into the lock on her front door without dropping everything. Just one of the problems you learn to solve when you live alone–especially when it’s raining like the biblical Flood, and you don’t want to make a second trip.
She splashed up the sidewalk from the curb, not paying attention to much beyond getting inside where it was warm and dry. Glancing down, she noticed footprints that seemed to come from around the side of the house. Big, mucky, sloppy footprints. Up her steps. But NOT back down. What? Who–where on earth–
She stood stock still, realizing that the only place those footsteps could go was inside her little house. The door was shut tight. There was no clear damage. No broken windows.
Her heart started ramping up, her fingers holding the keys shaking and her stomach churning. “Someone is inside. Waiting for me. Can’t go in there. What. . . .I know!”
She turned around and unlocked her car, dumping everything into the back seat. She rummaged for her phone, pulled it out of her purse, and with shaking fingers managed to punch in 9-1-1. As it rang, a shadow covered her window.
Terrified, Darla punched the door locks. She couldn’t tell if whatever was out there was friend or foe, and she was afraid to look.
Whoever it was, the person started banging on her window, yelling. She refused to put the window down. The yelling continued, and finally there was a response on her 9-1-1 call.
“HELP! I need help! There’s a large person banging on my car window! Yelling! I saw big, muddy footprints going up the steps to my front door, but not back down. Please help me!”
“Ma’am, I’ve put in a call to the police. Someone should be there in just a short time. Do NOT open your window!” “But I didn’t give you my address! How do you know where to send the police?”
“Your phone has a GPS that pinpoints your location, Ma’am. Can you start your car and move away from the person at your window?”
“Yes, sure! But don’t I have to be here when the police arrive? Whoever is out there isn’t going to stand around and wait!”
Darla worked hard to keep from hysterics. The banging and yelling hadn’t stopped, and she was certain her window would be broken soon. She touched her brakes and her ignition button. There was no one parked in front of her, so she pulled forward and to her left, giving the car a little gas before she took off, checking that there were no cars coming up behind her.
Whoever it was out there, he (it had to be a “he,” or an unusually large woman!) grabbed her side mirror as she pulled away. She was sure he would break it off! She kept going, though, determined to escape.
She heard the CRACK! as the side window was broken off her car, and then she heard an ominous THUD! She glanced into her rear vision mirror and saw a heap on the ground, but nothing else. And then, to her immense relief, a police car careened around a corner and pulled up beside her. An office put his window down. Before he could speak, she was talking.
“I’m so glad to see you! I made the call to 9-1-1! Footprints to my door, but not back down the stairs. Big–something–pounding on my car, he broke off the side mirror. . . . “
“Okay, Ma’am. We see what could be a man on the ground behind your car. Did you hit him?”
“What? NO! I was trying to drive away, and he grabbed my mirror, broke it off. . .I told you. . .”
“All right. Please stay in the car and wait for us to see what’s going on.” The officers stepped out of their car, pulled their weapons, and carefully approached the heap on the ground. It didn’t move, and was throughly soaked by the rain. One officer place his foot carefully on what he assumed was a shoulder, but there was no response. Squatting, he rolled the man over, felt for his pulse. “Call an ambulance! He’s alive, but his pulse is slow, hard to detect. Skin very white, blue lips. We could have a heart attack here.”
As the second officer placed the call and did what he could to make the man comfortable, the first officer motioned for Darla to lower her window. His hat dripped all over the car and on her, too.
“Ma’am, it’s hard to tell until the medics get a look at him, but I kind of think this man was looking for some help. There’s something wrong with him.”
As he spoke, Darla had an adrenaline reaction, finally dissolving into tears, shaking like a leaf from top to toe. “You mean–do you mean. . . .to say. . . .he could b-be dying? and I w-was too afraid to help h-him?”
“Ma’am, under the circumstances, you can’t blame yourself. You weren’t wrong to be afraid. We still need to figure out the footprints. Are you sure they didn’t come back down the steps?”
By this time, the ambulance had arrived, and there was a great fuss as the man was loaded onto a gurney. As they wheeled him away, the second office saw his feet. Very big feet, covered in rubber boots that were caked with mud.
He told his partner about the muddy boots, and again the first officer told Darla to wait in her car. The two policemen walked up the sidewalk, saw the prints coming around from the side of the house, up the stairs–and then followed them as they stepped in the exact same prints they had made climbing up the stairs. The print wavered in the grass, back around the side of the house. The man was dragging his feet, leaving ruts. It looked as if he’d stopped, turned around, and then made his way down to Darla’s car.
Describing what they thought had happened, they tried to reassure Darla that she was not to blame, could not be expected to notice the detail they had seen, persuaded her that she had every reason to be afraid, and that she had done the right thing.
The next day, Darla called in asking for a personal day at work. She was still tearful, and hadn’t had a very restful night. At least, though, she knew what had happened. Her neighbor from three houses down felt sick, tried to find someone at home to help him, and the rest of the story told itself.
Darla picked up a bouquet, drove to the hospital, and took the elevator up to the second floor. She was looking for his room number when a tall, hefty man came walking toward her. He was connected by his IV to a rolling cart, and had an oxygen tube in his nose.
“Mr. Carter! Oh, Mr. Carter, how can I ever tell you how sorry I am! I didn’t recognize you, I thought–I thought—“
“Darla, I understand. You had every reason to be afraid. Best thing you did was call 9-1-1. I don’t know how this would have turned out if you hadn’t.”
“So, what happened to you? Are you going to be okay?”
“Of course. My old ticker was just letting me know there was trouble. I’ll be fine. My son is coming tomorrow to take me home. . . . .say, have I ever introduced you to my son?” he said, beaming.
Somehow, today’s Friday Fictioneers story got posted on my Bible Study page. I’ve reblogged it to its appropriate place, but decided to leave it there as well. We need to remember. We like to say, “Never Again!” But it could happen again. The hearts of mankind don’t change from one generation to the next.
Shlomo, bent and frail, watched as busloads of tourists filed under the Arbeit Macht Frei gateway. Loaded with water bottles–which made Shlomo smile –and cameras, they gazed with intense curiosity, as if they expected to see ghosts. Most became very quiet.
There wasn’t even any birdsong, as if nature itself revered the spirits of those who had suffered there.
Shlomo, aided by a grandson on each side, walked away from the tourists toward the barracks that he knew best. Wordless, he and his grandsons stood and gazed into the interior.
It’s snowing heavily. Wasn’t supposed to start until sometime after five tonight. Watching the big, fat flakes drift down has triggered a memory. I may have written this one before, don’t remember. So here goes.
We lived in southern Minnesota. I was 17, a senior in high school. My little brother, John, was three.
Mom had suffered severe problems for a long time with issues that finally led to her having surgery, a complete hysterectomy including her ovaries, which put her into medical menopause. It was March, when the area we lived in often got the worst blizzards of the winter. Dad had driven from St. James to the hospital in Madelia, a 15-mile trip, to spend some time with Mom. Johnny and I hunkered down for the day, played some games, read some of his favorite stories, and generally just relaxed.