Hitch’n

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“My entire life has been lies,” thought JJ as his boots tapped out a rapid tattoo. “It’s a sham, a false reality that everyone has purchased a slice of. There is no path to success. It’s just consumption, power mongering, and environmental destruction.”

JJ had left a monument in the center of his neatly made bed. His diploma from Wharton University, crumbled into a ball, and his wallet. Inside it was $250 in cash, his credit cards, and his driver’s license. JJ’s vehicle registration and passport completed the assembly. On top of everything, he’d left a cryptic note, Mom, you won’t be able to find me where I am going.

At the time that JJ had written it, he’d been seething with anger, wanting to lash out. Even in that highly charged state, he realized that it sounded like a suicide note. He didn’t want anyone to assume that he’d taken the easy way out. JJ added, When I find what I am looking for, I’ll be in touch.

His backpack was light. It contained a Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, a set of magnets his father had given him on his sixth birthday and the tiny ceramic jar (containing his baby teeth) that his mother had saved.

On the deserted road, a car’s approach could be heard from a long way off. Confidently, JJ made a fist with his thumb pointing up, holding it out.

A wind kicked up in all directions. The air buzzed and crackled. But JJ didn’t look around, he kept striding. A bright light appeared in front of him.

That made him stop. A large bubble, about fifteen feet in diameter, emerged. It undulated as if it were alive, growing increasingly fatter, straining at its surface.

With a pop, it burst. In its place, stood JJ’s dream car.

It made no sound as it crept forward, stopping at his side. The driver’s side door opened. When JJ leaned down to peer inside, he only saw darkness. For a moment, he thought about his note, maybe it was a suicide note…maybe not.

JJ got in.

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Vistual Writing Prompt:  WritetoDone website – in 350 words or less, write about what happened next – November 2016

Guest Post – Underneath excerpt by M.N. Arzú

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Daybreak usually found Neil Thompson walking down the shore. At this early hour, the deserted Maine beach was his and his alone. Thoughts about everything and nothing formed and vanished in his mind along with the waves. At fifty-two, few were the pleasures left to him from his childhood, and fewer the moments he actually got to enjoy them.

He loved this part of the beach, his own private sanctuary off the beaten path.

Further down the beach, the waves were washing against a large object, but the dim early light and the seaweed distorted its form. Frowning, he wondered if the sea would reclaim it or if he would find trash polluting his little piece of heaven.

Wind beat on the back of his neck as he tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He left footprints that quickly washed away, while taking his time to reach the mystery item the sea had so generously brought to his feet.

His heart slammed in his chest when he finally realized what he was looking at: a dead body. Frozen to the spot, he stared as wave after wave crested over the white chest and dark trousers of a man’s corpse, and all he could think about was how much he truly wished the sea would take it back.

Holding his breath, he tried and failed to look away. His stomach felt too tight and heavy while his mind navigated a strange mix of morbid curiosity and utter disgust.

A particularly large wave crashed beside him, drawing him from his thoughts and reminding him that the tide forgave nothing on these ever-changing shores. A full minute passed before he resigned himself to the grisly duty of dragging the dead man out of the ocean’s grasp. He would need to call in the authorities on what was becoming anything but a normal day. Quickly, he dialed the number and waited impatiently.

Holding his phone in one hand, he reached for the man’s shoulder with the other. Movement met his touch, and he jerked his hand back in shock. Life still clung to this body. The man was still breathing.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

The voice on the phone caught him off-guard, and he almost dropped it.

“Sir?”

“Yes! Hello? I’m Neil Thompson, I’m at the beach. I’ve just found a man here. He was brought in by the tide. I think he’s still breathing, but I—I don’t know what—”… to do…

The words stuck in his throat.

He’d honestly thought those were trousers. Through the dark seaweed, a hundred shades of blue glinted off each scale as the sun rose in the early hour, the sea no longer able to disguise what Neil had ignored before: A tail.

Longer than legs would have been, the tail rolled lazily with the tide, somehow at an odd angle. Instinctively, he took two steps back, almost losing his balance. Every fiber of his being screamed for him to turn around and run, but he was trapped in his fight or flight instinct.

Gentle waves reached them again and again as Neil struggled to breathe. Where knees should have been, a deep gash ran horizontally, torn flesh and scales the testimony of a gruesome accident. Closing his eyes, Neil swallowed bile.

In his ear, the dispatcher kept asking questions, though God knew about what. He wished yet again that the sea would take back what it had brought in.

“Mr. Thompson, paramedics are on their way, but we need an exact location.”

Hysterically, he looked around, a tiny part of his mind deciding this must be a prank. Somewhere, nearby, cameras were recording his reaction and one day soon he would be watching this on reality television, laughing at his gullible self.

And yet, no matter where he looked, or how much he wished it wasn’t, the beach was deserted.

This is real. God, this is real!

“Mr. Thompson? Can you hear me?”

Neil looked down at the man who wasn’t a man, coming to grips with the fact that myth had crossed into reality, and no one but him was witnessing this bizarre twist in his life.

“Mr. Thompson!”

“Yes!” he answered, snapping out of it. It didn’t matter if this was the strangest day of his life, he could only guess the man in front of him was having his worst.

“I’m here,” he reassured the dispatcher, giving his address and a good estimate of how far he’d walked away from his home. “I’m across from Cluney’s store. I’ll stand by to signal the ambulance, you won’t miss me.”

“Okay, Mr. Thompson, this is what I need you to do while help is on the way.”

The operator listed off tasks: get him safe, check his breathing, check his responsiveness to touch. Maybe there was more, maybe Neil only half understood what the woman was trying to tell him, but he had the insane need to correct his early statement. You’re not coming to aid a man.

She kept asking all kinds of questions, expecting him to do all kinds of things.

Placing the phone in his shirt pocket on speaker, he mentally went through the instructions from the dispatcher on what he needed to do. Finally, taking a deep breath, he fixed his eyes on the lifeless face. Several bruises were starting to turn purple alongside the right temple, certainly the product of one hell of a collision. Neil had to talk to him to see if he could get a response.

“Hey…” Neil whispered, his voice deserting him.

“Hey,” he tried again, sounding slightly louder. “Well, crap, I don’t know what I’m doing…” he murmured. Shutting his eyes tightly for a second, he took a moment to get his racing heart under control. He positioned himself above the head, and with trembling hands, he reached under the ice-cold armpits.

“Okay, okay, here’s the deal: I’ll move you out of the sea, and you don’t bite my head off, okay?”

The man was heavy, and with some considerable effort, Neil dragged him out of the water. Part of Neil expected the tail to turn into legs. Part of him expected those eyes to pop open and sharp teeth to start gnashing at him.

None of that happened.

He took his phone out and went back to the dispatcher. Drowning people swallowed a lot of water, she informed him. Neil had to move his unconscious victim onto his side in case he vomited.

Neil stared at the tail on his victim, and almost laughed. This man was the furthest thing from drowning that one could get. In fact, maybe he should be pushing him right back into the sea.

“Mr. Thompson, do you understand?” the dispatcher asked, concerned.

“Yes,” he said, absently nodding.

He’d just found a mermaid—merman—yet no one would ever believe that something so fantastic could happen to someone so mundane.

Turning to look down the road, he strained to hear the ambulance sirens, but all he heard was the sea. He still had time.

Hanging up, he deftly turned his phone camera on and began gathering proof of what he was witnessing. No one would ever doubt what he’d just seen.

* * *

To the untrained eye, the hospital Emergency Room was nothing more than a chaotic arrangement of people shouting at each other and working their shifts on caffeine alone.

Well, that last part is true, Gwen Gaston thought, the last drops of her coffee still tasting like heaven. She’d been crazy for a fourth cup of liquid energy since two patients ago.

From her vantage point on the opposite corner of the ER entrance, Gwen watched gurneys and paramedics come and go, their patients delivered to the capable hands of her colleagues. Being the ER on-call surgeon guaranteed she never got bored, which was the main reason why she’d applied for the position two years ago. She’d been missing the adrenaline from her early days as an emergency doctor, and the intricate puzzles and challenges each ambulance brought to her hands.

Her timer went off, the cue for getting back to work. She threw the empty paper cup into the nearest trashcan and rubbed her hands in anticipation.

She was overweight and out of shape, and she knew she didn’t look like the ideal surgeon to handle the turmoil of the ER; half her diet consisted of an unhealthy dose of soda and chips to compensate for long hours at work, but damn, was she good at what she did. Most days that included patching people up from the inside out, six cups of coffee, and a good measure of yelling.

The speaker overhead chimed and a man called a code blue for the trauma room. Her phone began buzzing with an alert at the same time: they needed her to start prepping for emergency surgery. She walked faster.

“What do we have?” she asked to no one in particular on her route to her new patient, slipping out a pair of latex gloves.

“Some idiot in a mermaid costume half drowned down the beach,” one of the paramedics told her. His partner looked anything but amused. In fact, the guy looked downright scared.

“Okay, he’s stabilizing now. Can someone get that tail out of the way?” Dr. Bill Shore ordered, sounding calm and collected despite such an odd request.

She entered the trauma room and the smell of the ocean hit her before she could even take a good look at the man. She’d been expecting a half-assed costume made out of cheap plastic in pinks and yellows, adorned with shiny fake gems to complete the look. What she wasn’t expecting was how real the disguise looked. It was decorated with hundreds of tiny bright scales, complete with thin lateral fins that were torn everywhere. The length of the tail reached all the way down to the floor where people narrowly missed it with their shoes.

“What did you page me for?” she asked, mentally shaking her head at the crazy things she had to put up with in her line of work. This close, she could see small clusters of scales framing the youthful face and parts of his shoulders, which then disappeared down his back. His ears were pointy, and his skin almost translucent.

“We’ve been having a hard time with his vitals, and I could really use your help figuring out where he’s bleeding. We can’t seem to keep his blood pressure up.”

Gwen’s fingers expertly palpated the abdomen, looking for the elusive internal bleeding. Intrigued at what she felt, she started listening with the stethoscope a moment later, while monitors kept pace with a weak heartbeat and shallow breathing. Bruises adorned the right side of their patient’s head, and she would bet good money that his right wrist was broken.

What the hell is this? She thought as she kept moving down, unable to identify the internal sounds. Something was seriously off, she just couldn’t put her finger on what.

“Can someone page neurology, please?” Bill ordered.

“Are they filming something nearby?” Jackie, the senior nurse on staff asked, while touching the line where skin became tail. “This costume is definitely professional. I can’t find where it comes off.”

Still listening, Gwen’s eyes fixated on the middle of the tail, where she could see sluggish blood pooling onto the gurney. That gash was bleeding real blood.

Bingo!

“It might be painted on the skin,” Gwen absently explained. She stopped listening and started seeking where real muscle became part of the disguise. Her hands methodically felt beside and beneath the smooth texture of the tail, imagining how two legs would be able to fit in the narrow outfit. Where knees should bend, she unexpectedly felt a pulse.

She looked up at Bill, who was busy checking the monitors.

“I need to see what’s going on down here,” she said, signaling the tail.

“Okay, on three!” Bill said, and deftly they moved their patient onto his side. The back was as meticulously decorated as the tail, the blue scales following the spine in a narrow line, all the way to the back of his neck. The deep gash ran from one side to the other, cutting through several layers of tissue.

“Let’s clean this wound,” Gwen ordered to their other nurse, Oscar. It unnerved her that she could be fooled by an elaborate Halloween costume. She pressed down on her newly discovered pulse point, and saw the tail twitch further down. Blinking, she pressed again, sure she was imagining things.

It twitched again.

“We really need to get this thing off,” she heard Bill saying, but he sounded so far away. “Gwen, how bad are his legs?”

“I can’t find—”she started to say, sounding equally far away. The gash hypnotized her, forbidding her to even blink. Some forty percent of the tail had been cut deep, and her surgeon’s brain automatically calculated the odds of keeping the limb or amputating it.

For the first time, Gwen saw that tail as part of a body.

“Gwen?”

“It’s not a costume,” she muttered, bewildered, but only Oscar turned to look. Everyone else kept going at it as if they were treating a human.

“What?” Bill asked while he listened to the lungs with his stethoscope.

“It’s not a costume,” she repeated louder, turning to look at Bill with round eyes. “It’s—it’s real!”

Only Oscar understood her, moving away immediately, his eyes going as big as hers.

“What are you talking about?” Bill asked, forgetting his stethoscope.

“The ta—tail is bleeding,” she forced herself to explain. “There’s a pulse, even a reflex. Bill, I can’t find any legs in here.”

This time, Jackie moved back. Frowning, Bill moved next to her to take a closer look.

“X-rays,” they said at the same time.

Hesitantly, Oscar helped her and Bill to place their patient on his back. Two seconds later, they cleared the room to evade the momentary radiation.

“I’m sure this is perfectly logical,” he told Gwen, looking through the door at the impressive tail that still touched the floor.

“Birth malformation?” she offered, equally locked on their patient’s body. “With that length?”

“Someone’s playing a prank on us,” he muttered, entering the room once more. Behind them, only Oscar entered willingly.

“Or maybe he was playing a prank on someone else and it went horribly wrong…” she reasoned, looking at the monitors, “You can’t fake these vitals.”

By the door, Jackie made the sign of the cross. On the hall outside the room, the paramedics argued with each other about who’d been right.

This is becoming a circus.

“Bill?”

“We’re not dealing with a Disney character!” he snapped. She silently agreed: she doubted she’d ever seen a Disney character with abs like those. She chuckled at the stupid thought, barely containing a full blown hysterical attack.

“Get the labs done,” he told Jackie, the poor nurse looking paler than their patient while she fled the room.

“Get another gurney,” Gwen ordered Oscar. “We need to level off that tail.”

More people crowded the door, blocking anyone who was actually trying to work. The news of what was going on in the trauma room was spreading like wildfire.

“This is getting out of control,” she warned Bill, for the first time chaos taking over their highly tuned and efficient ER.

“Listen up!” Bill roared, walking towards the door, towering over everyone. “This is not a mermaid, and this is not a freak-show! Get back to work and let us save this man! NOW!”

They cleared out in two seconds flat.

“Are you sure?” Oscar asked, bringing the gurney Gwen had asked for into the room.

“YES!” Bill shouted, impatience showing through. “And whoever suggests otherwise—”

He didn’t finish, but the meaning hung in the air. Silently, Oscar helped her get the tail up.

“Here, let’s see…” Gwen murmured, clinical eyes looking for a better angle into the wound. They turned their not-mermaid onto his side again, and methodically she assessed the damage.

“He needs the OR,” she said aloud—for his not-tail, she privately added.

“He’s going to need a whole lot more than that when he wakes up and explains what the hell is going on here,” Bill murmured under his breath.

She couldn’t agree more.
__________________________

The excerpt that you’ve just read is the first chapter the book Underneath, a merfolk tale.  If you liked it, there’s more!

I had the pleasure of reading the entire manuscript as Michelle was creating it. It’s fast paced and good to the very last drop.

Follow the links below to learn about M.N. Arzú and how to get her books.

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More by this author – The Librarian Book Review

 

 

 

 

An injured merman is found washed up on a beach in Maine.

Merfolk have been hiding in plain sight for centuries. Now they are now torn between sacrificing one of their own—or telling humanity the truth.

Underneath, a merfolk tale takes the reader on a journey through secret societies, conspiracy, investigation, parental love, and coming-of-age

1850 – The Rising Phoenix – San Francisco

October 28, 1850 

Dearest Wife ~ 

There have been two more fires. San Francisco, like a phoenix, continually rises from the ashes. The damages, this time, are thought to exceed $15,000,000. I can comfortably speak of the numbers. Not so—of the personal toll.

Too many friends have been taken by fate or by their own hand.

Remember the Patterson family? After their home burned, Mr. Patterson shot his wife and their baby daughter in the street. He was found lying dead on top of them.

Thomas Maguire – who owns the Jenny Lind Theatre – has lost everything six times! He jokes that one day he will write a play about it. I appreciate his candor and I admire him for not succumbing to hopelessness.

1906 earth quake

Our warehouse fell to the flames. We had to have guards at the burn site every hour of the day and night so that no one would build on our ground.

There is much talk about forming a fire company with volunteers and of construction methods that will withstand conflagration.  

I ache with missing you, but I am glad that you have been spared the agony and upheaval here.

 All My Love, Reece

William_Coulter_-_San_Francisco

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Writing Prompt: 200-Word Tuesdays – June 2016 prompt theme: Wrinkled Paper

This letter is an excerpt from a book in progress. Haylee is a monster story with scene settings that are historically accurate.

Haylee is a mysterious and rare Traveler. She is time shifted from 1984 to San Francisco in 1850. While there she meets and marries Reece Keener (Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone). Having returned to her own time – Haylee and the Crystal Carrier’s Consort (working title) – Haylee discovers a series of letters that her husband wrote.  This letter is one of that series.

History of the San Francisco Fire Department – Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

Only the Treehouse Knows – 200 words

treehouse cover

“T’was an ‘venture coming ‘her when we was kids.” Bill parked his diesel pick-up at the road side.

Sweltering, moist heat engulfed them when they stepped out of the air conditioning.  Bill’s crooked finger pointed at something over the rooftops. “Ya can jus make out the tree over ‘ther. Was jus open fields back then.”

“Is that where it happened?” Shayden asked as he took off his mirrored aviator sunglasses and squinted.

Bill said, “Some thirty years ago, now.”

Shayden pulled his phone out of his pocket, zoomed in on the tree and started snapping. “Do you still live around here?”

“Yep, ‘bout four miles away.”

“Have you heard of any unusual things happing in the area?”

“Ya might could say that,” Bill snorted. “It’s not some’thin people in these parts like to talk about much.”

“Would you show me what it was that you wrote in about?”

Bill scanned the road for traffic, then with his mouth pressed in a harsh line, he began unbuttoning his work shirt. He pulled the fabric back to reveal the lumpy spot in his side.

Shayden’s eyes opened wide, he swallowed audibly. He looked to Bill and held up his phone; Bill nodded.


Story Prompt: @200WordTuesdays on Twitter

Theme: Empty fields & nostalgia

Numbers Cruncher

Alberto had everything a man could wish for ─ notoriety, beautiful women, and Numbers Cruncher smflashy cars. His biggest problem was a father who expected perfection.

When Alberto was in fifth grade, he scored 100% on a math quiz. He remembered his father standing proudly, while proclaiming, “When you are older, you will work for the family as a numbers cruncher.”

Four years after graduating from UCLA, Alberto continued to work as an accountant in his father’s office. Last year, he’d been, ‘number one.’ His coworkers constantly pestered him to hold up his finger so that they could laugh.

Alberto sat in the hushed waiting room. He shoved his hands deep into his armpits and settled his forearms over them like a chicken adjusting its wings.

Tony, his cousin, sat opposite him drumming on a case that sat in his lap. He smirked at Alberto.

To Alberto, Tony looked like a sausage stuffed into a three-piece-suit. They’d been best friends when they were kids. Once puberty hit, Tony spent time bulking up at the gym and training to become an EMT. Tony steadily climbed the ladder in the family business because he was good at carrying out orders and cleaning up messes.

Alberto found it difficult to breathe. The seat of his chair felt like it was made from a pin cushion with the pins sticking in his ass. They were waiting for the tax preparer to check Alberto’s work.

His father strode into the room like a general about to address his troops.  Not making eye contact with Alberto, he gestured in Tony’s direction. The sound of the zipper releasing its teeth had Alberto pushing against his backrest and shaking his head.

“No! No! No!” he screamed.

Tony opened the case. Nestled in a velvet lining, gleamed a razor sharp chef’s cleaver. Tony lunged for Alberto as his father lifted it and adjusted it in within his grip.

The struggle to free Alberto’s left hand was over quickly. Bracing it flat on a nearby table, Tony nodded to indicate that he was ready. Alberto’s one remaining finger ─ his index ─ lay exposed and vulnerable.

“Father! I beg you!”

His mouth formed a grim, straight line and he responded while raising his arm, “It’s our way, son. This is the price for making mistakes.”

 

————————–

Story Prompt: @GHowellWhite1 Twitter Prompt

Theme: Pen a story from the point of view of an accountant. Genre: Horror

Author & Character Dialog

As I write, it’s like I am watching a movie, except that it involves all the senses. I see everything from each characters’ point of view. I hear, touch, smell and taste the surroundings. I feel all the feelings.

The characters seem very real as they are doing what they are doing. But having one of them interact with YOU is a very different experience!

In this writing exercise, it was the first time that I ‘talked’ to my main character. Her responses came instantly and naturally – just as if we were really having a conversation with one another.

Give it a try, it will add another level of dimensionality to your peeps.

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Wake up Haylee.diagol cover sm

“Go away Joey, I am trying to sleep.” Haylee flung a warm pillow out from under the covers. With no specific direction in mind, the soft projectile was meant to disrupt the cat’s plan to get her out of bed.

I thought we could talk for a few moments.

“Joey! Come on!” Haylee complained.

This isn’t Joey.

“Huh?” Haylee responded. She cracked her eyes into thin slits and scanned the room.  Accustomed to hearing voices in her head, she took a moment to assess the quality of this particular one. It was not totally foreign; she’d heard it before…

Now that she was focusing on it, she understood that it was not Joey or any other animal.  Animals didn’t form words and complete sentences. They sent a series of flowing visual images with emotions attached.

It wasn’t a thought from any of her victims either.  After being absorbed into her mind during Haylee’s unusual feeding process, they were mere memories. When she was finished with them, they didn’t make new ones.

Re-asserting her tight clamp-down on those, Haylee was suddenly wide awake.  She threw back the blankets and scrambled out of bed. Already wearing sweats, she threw on a jacket, slipped into a pair of shoes, and ran a comb quickly through her dark, curly mass of hair.

She was out of the apartment in less than ten minutes.  The streets of Berkeley, California were not as busy as they usually were at this time of day, but there were enough people around to make Haylee feel part of something larger. Thinking that the voice was a dream remnant, she let relief trickle down her spine.

You are going to Josh’s office aren’t you?

Haylee stopped in mid stride. A forty-something, dark skinned man carrying a to-go coffee grumbled, “Watch where you are going, Miss!”  He extended his hot cup away from his body while barely avoiding a collision.

“Sorry,” she muttered.

“Who are you?” Haylee asked, looking up and all around. The coffee man, glanced over his shoulder, frowned, and picked up his pace.

I can’t tell you that, but I want you to know that I am someone who cares.

“Are you my mom?”

Not exactly.

“Alright, whoever you are, what do you want and why are you talking to me?”

A pair of female students, seeing the young woman gesturing and speaking out loud, crossed to the other side of the street.

I want you to know that when I kill you, you won’t suffer and that your time here has had a much bigger purpose.

You are going to kill me? I don’t think so. I’m dying because all of the women in my family have some weird inherited thing that happens after they give birth. “

A husky blonde came out of a store with her son. They emerged near where Haylee was standing. The precocious boy pointed. “Mommy, that lady is talking to a ghost.”

The mother shushed him and hurried them toward their car.

That’s right. Why do you think that is?

A suspicious look crossed Haylee’s face. “I don’t know….  Do YOU?”

People are staring Haylee; you should keep walking. Yes, I am the only one who does.

Instead of walking, Haylee began to jog.

“Are you saying that it was your idea that I die at the age of twenty-three?”

You could have lived for a few years more if you hadn’t returned the souls that you stole.  But it was the right thing to do.

“Not that I believe you, but did you also have something to do with my time jump to 1849 and…Reece?” her voice broke a little on the last word.

Of course. That is part of the story arc for the women of your lineage and the crystal fragments that you possess.

“Then you know about the Travelers and why they do what they do?”

Yes, and you will too before too much longer. 

Haylee, who had started running at top speed, stopped to rest when she felt the energy of the voice begin to pull away.

“Wait! Are you saying that I’m not real? That my dad, Gori, Josh and Serena aren’t real either?

You’re real to me and I love you all. You are like my children.

“I don’t accept this.”

I’m sorry.

“If this is true, why do I have to die?  I don’t want to die! There’s so much more that I want to do!”

I know.

“Josh needs to know about this! He thinks he can help. He’s started a research project.”

That is exactly what he needs to be doing. His work is going to be an important part of what happens next. But you won’t be able to tell him about this conversation because I have to wipe it out of your mind.

“What? Why?”

I need you to go into Haylee and the Last Traveler with no memory of it having taken place.

______________________

 

 

Haylee: Period of Change – 1st Place Short Story Winner

 

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1982

 

Most of the girls Haylee’s age started getting their periods at thirteen. Haylee was well aware of this because those who were, “on the rag” didn’t have to shower in gym class. It was almost an honor, and a sign that a girl had moved into womanhood.

When Haylee turned fourteen and was practically the last girl not to have gotten her period, her schoolmates started talking about it.

At fifteen, still periodless, and showing no signs of physical maturation, the gym teacher called Haylee into her office and started asking embarrassing questions. Mortified, Haylee quietly informed the teacher that the women in her family had always been very late bloomers — she was grasping at straws — and that she was sure that it would happen any day.

The teacher, who was quite fond of the quiet, intelligent girl, looked doubtful. She empathized with Haylee’s discomfort, and she knew that with Haylee’s mother gone, the girl probably had no one to confide in. “Haylee, I’m not trying to embarrass you. It may be true that you are a late bloomer, but it could also be that something’s wrong, like a hormone imbalance. I’ve discussed it with the school nurse and —”

“How could you talk about this with someone else? It’s none of your business!” Haylee shouted. She felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“It is my business, Haylee,” the teacher replied sadly. “Teachers have a responsibility to look after the welfare of their students. If it appears that a parent is neglecting —”

“What? You’re saying my father is doing something wrong because I’m not…” her brow furrowed.  Haylee searched for the right words,“…growing up?”

“This is important, Haylee. You are not progressing normally; I have to call your father to make sure you see a doctor.”

“No! Just leave me alone and stay away from my father!” Haylee yelled as she practically jumped for the door. She felt trapped and needed air.

~ ~ ~ ~

Even before her talk with her gym teacher, Haylee had wondered if there was something wrong. At first, she was convinced that she had cancer eating away her insides, keeping her from growing. As she got older, she worried that she had a congenital disorder that stunted her growth.

Not long after what Haylee thought of as “The Big Period Incident,” she ordered herself a bra through a catalog and started stuffing herself. She also became an expert at avoiding gym class.

Despite her worries, Haylee stayed bal­anced. She enjoyed learning and took pleasure in her classes, easily outshining the other students.

When all of her chores on the farm were done for the day and she’d fixed her father dinner, Haylee would go outside and climb up on the old tractor. It sat rusting behind the barn. From there, she’d watch the sun set.

The cool, evening air, as it caressed her face, had her smiling. She thought about how much she loved caring for their pigs, chickens and horses. The pictures and thoughts that they shared with her made her feel accepted as part of them. They saw her…really saw her. This was something that Haylee desperately needed.

~ ~ ~ ~

Seventeen-year-old Haylee was sure that she had a migraine, even though she’d never had one before. The excruciating pain started at her temples and radiated out like pinpoint pricks of burning sparks that crackled through her bloodstream. With eyes squinted into slits, Haylee, had to draw in deep breaths to keep her stomach contents where they belonged. Haylee gently managed the half-mile walk from the bus stop to her house.

The cool interior darkness that enveloped her as she crossed the threshold offered a fleeting sense of relief. Within moments, she was clammy and trembling again.

She held onto the walls to make her way to the bathroom. Once there, she let her book bag drop and crawled like a suffering supplicant toward the porcelain deity. After twenty minutes of dry heaves, she thankfully welcomed its cool countenance along the side of her face as she crouched there, embracing it for another ten minutes.

When it appeared that her world had ceased its sickening gyrations, Haylee gingerly moved a few inches to test her theory. I think it’s getting better, she thought. Although the agony persisted, the nausea had lessened.

Stooping carefully to retrieve her bag, Haylee didn’t bother to glance in the mirror as she shuffled toward her bedroom. Returning shortly in her bathrobe, she reached into the shower to turn on the hot water. If she had not been so preoccupied, she would have been shocked by what the mirror revealed. Dark hair hung limply around an ashen face. Her lips were gray. Her straight, angular body had become more rounded.

Shakily, she stepped over the edge of the tub. The cascading water soothed her, but only temporarily. Lost in a dull haze, but not knowing what else to do, Haylee stood there, eyes closed, remaining as still as possible.

At some point, her father started knocking on the bathroom door.  Feebly, she responded. She was relieved when he finally left. Long after the water had turned cold and the house had become silent, she stepped out of the shower.

Laboriously, she slipped on her robe. The mirror reflected even more startling changes. Her hands and arms had begun to take on pronounced lines. Her neck, shoulders, hips, and legs had developed a graceful quality. The hurt she experienced blinded her to all else, but somewhere in the back of her mind, it registered that her robe was too small.

Without turning on the lights, Haylee went to her room. Feeling for the electric blanket controls, she cranked the heat up to high. Crawling under the covers, she curled into a ball.

~ ~ ~ ~

Frequently, with only the hum of appliances and the ticking of the clock for company, Haylee wished that her dad would linger for breakfast ─ but not today. She was grateful that he had left at first light. Rushing to put on baggy sweats, she raced to the kitchen driven by fierce cravings.  She was ravenous!

Barely able to contain her desires, she opened the refrigerator and grabbed the first thing her hand landed on — milk. After a half dozen lusty swallows, the empty carton landed with a dull thud in the middle of the kitchen floor. Empty cheese wrappers followed by cold cut wrappers, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup bottles, an empty pickle jar, Tupperware containers that had held Tuna Helper leftovers, a tray from what was left of a pineapple upside-down cake and an empty egg carton were added to the pile.

Haylee paused to survey the bare refrigerator shelves for anything else of interest. A deep burp, that tasted like mustard and tuna, bubbled up her throat. Not a bad combination… Haylee rejected the horseradish and jalapeno condiments.  Resting one hand on her stomach while wiping goo from her face with the back of the other, Haylee thought.  I don’t feel like puking after eating all of that! Another belch erupted, followed by more hungry gurgles.

Haylee began riffling through the cupboards next. Soon the plinking of empty tin cans sounded as they hit the floor. With a glassy look in her eyes, she licked food remnants from the dirty dishes in the sink. Consciously, she had stopped herself from tossing the Corel plates and bowls into her heap. Although the advertisements claimed that they were unbreakable, Haylee knew this was not true. Everything even remotely edible that could be gleaned from the trashcan was added to the increasing refuse pile in the middle of the room.

Haylee took a deep breath and sighed. She wandered over to the couch. What a relief not to feel starved! Her head barely landed on the cushion before she fell fast asleep.

~ ~ ~ ~

Something roused her from her nap shortly before her dad was due to come in for lunch. Yawning, Haylee sat up, arched her back and stretched. She opened and closed her mouth, testing it’s parched, cottony texture. Cupping a hand over it, she expelled hot breath while taking a whiff to see if it smelled. The scent of fish, sour milk and onions made her frown. Thinking that she needed to brush her teeth, Haylee stood up. It was then that she noticed the state of the kitchen. “Did I do ALL that?”

It looked like a cyclone had gone through and pulled everything out of the shelves except for the plates, glasses, and silverware. A tingling underneath her skin had Haylee absently scratching her extremities. Something else felt funny. Reaching up to her chest, Haylee found sensitive mounds that filled her hands. She pulled the neckline of her sweatshirt away so she could look inside, “Holy!….” Her heart pounded as she explored that rest of her new contours. With a sense of wonder and delight, Haylee let out a sigh. So I was right!

Her eyes darted back to the mess in the kitchen. Dad’s going to be here soon! Leaping into action, she pulled out a roll of garbage bags. Haylee began shoving loose items into them. In under thirty minutes, she’d filled five! After hauling the trash bags outside, she returned to mop and wipe down the counters. At least, it smells fresh, Haylee thought as she surveyed her handy-work.

~ ~ ~ ~

The slam of the screen door announced her father’s arrival. He was greasy from crawling around under the walnut shaker. Not saying ‘hello,’ he paused at her side, took a quick sniff, raised his eyebrows, then continued striding toward the kitchen. Hesitating, he turned back, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school today?”

Knotting her fists in the fabric of her sweatshirt, Haylee hid most of the stains from her recent activity  ─ as well as a few other developments ─ “Ahhh….. I wasn’t feeling good, so I stayed home.”

“Huh,” Eugene muttered before turning around to continue.  Haylee held her breath as he reached for the refrigerator door.

“Aw, crap!” his voice sounded hollow coming from inside the appliance. “I don’t have time to go shopping today.” He straightened and looked at Haylee. “How can we be completely out of food?”

She smiled sheepishly, “A couple of friends from school stopped by to bring my missed assignments. They were hungry, so I told them that they could raid the kitchen.”

Nodding, he sighed. “They did. Going to have to wait till tonight before I can run into town. Make a shopping list?”

“Sure.” Haylee wondered how he could so easily accept her made-up story.

“I’ve got some beef jerky in the truck. Want me to bring you some?” he asked as he breezed past. The screen door slammed again before she had a chance to reply.

“I’m feeling better, Dad. Thank you so much for asking.”

~ ~ ~ ~

That night, Haylee slept fitfully. A headache had started again. By midnight, she was curled into a ball, feeling nauseous and dizzy. What’s wrong with me? her mind screamed.

After spending more than three hours in agony and terror, Haylee’s body suddenly jerked as a piercing, sharp pain ripped through her abdominal area. With swelling eyes, she opened her mouth to scream and found that she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was pounding so hard and fast, she thought it would burst. She panicked and clawed at her throat, leaving angry red marks. Her eyes rolled back in her head.

Some time later, she roused. The pain was still with her, but she was able to move. She noticed that her legs felt warm and slippery. She reached over to turn on her bedside lamp. Looking down, she was horrified to find that she was lying in a pool of blood. Inhaling a shaky, ragged breath, her throat constricted. Daddy, …please help me, I’m so scared.

After a struggle, Haylee managed to get herself onto her feet. She could see thick ribbons of dark red snaking their way down her legs. “Daddy,” she croaked, starting to weep. Holding onto the furniture and swaying, Haylee slowly inched her way to the bathroom. Once there, she collapsed unceremoniously into the bathtub. Sinking into a blessed darkness where the pain didn’t follow, Haylee felt sure that she would never wake up.

~ ~ ~ ~

Usually a heavy sleeper, Eugene woke with a start. A glance at the clock on his nightstand told him the time was 4:00 a.m. Fuzzily, he wondered what roused him. A strong smell of gardenias brought him fully awake. He wondered if it was left over from a dream he’d been having about his late wife, Doris.

He fumbled for the switch on his bedside lamp. Temporarily blinded by the illumination, Gene’s eyes squeezed shut. He scrambled to put on his clothes.

Flipping on the hallway light, he immediately spotted the dark pools of liquid and what looked like dragging footprints on the floor. When it dawned on him what he was seeing, Gene’s heart thudded. “Jesus in Heaven!” he muttered as he ran down the hall. Bursting into Haylee’s bathroom, Gene took in the scene.

His daughter lay in a heap in the tub, looking as white as a corpse. The bottom half of her nightshirt was soaked with blood, and her legs were smeared with it. “Haylee!” he cried. A fresh, steady stream was pooling and dripping down the drain.

Falling to his knees, he grabbed her shoulders. “Haylee! Haylee! Can you hear me?”

She was limp. He felt for a pulse. It was there, but it was fast and weak. Reaching for a towel, he stuffed it tightly between her thighs to stanch the flow. Gently gathering her up in his arms, Eugene ran to his truck, saying all the way, “Dear God, I beg you, please don’t take my girl away from me too!”

Stretching Haylee out on the bench seat, Gene cradled her head in his lap. With unsteady hands, he struggled to put his key in the ignition. He looked at them and saw them covered with blood. It was almost his undoing. Closing his eyes, he told himself that he had to stay calm.

Arriving at the hospital, he raced around the truck to scoop her up. The towel he had used to staunch her bleeding was soaked through. “Argh!” he exclaimed. Hastily, he ripped off his shirt to replace the sodden towel. When they burst through the emergency room door, Gene’s eyes were wild.

Immediately, Haylee was whisked away. Gene made a move to follow, but a nurse blocked his way. He would have fought to get past her but stopped when she told him that if he wanted to help, he would have to stay out of the doctor’s way.

Looking down, he saw a petite, redhead with intense blue eyes regarding him. In a firm but hushed tone, she said, “She’s in good hands.”

He nodded, “She has to be alright.”  His voice was strained.

The nurse directed him into a quiet, empty treatment room where she had him sit on a table. Coming back from closing the door, she brought tissues, rubber gloves, and moist towels to clean him up. As she reached out to hand him a tissue, she found herself caught in his grasp. He pulled her close and laid his head on her chest. His large body shook with deep soul-shattering sobs.

Gene realized his tears were more than just fear of the danger that Haylee was in. They were self-loathing for ignoring Haylee after her mother’s death, and dread that he would never have a chance to tell her he was sorry.

~ ~ ~ ~

Feeling euphoric, Haylee noticed a light, floating sensation. Hearing muted voices, she struggled to become fully conscious.

Her dad’s face came into view. She wondered why he looked so tired. There were deep lines on his forehead and around his eyes.

He reached out to brush the hair off of her forehead. Seeing her eyes focus on him, he turned to speak to someone. “I think she’s coming around.”

A woman’s face appeared. A bright light was di­rected in one eye and then the other. The woman spoke to Gene. “She’s stronger.”

Haylee could hear muted voices from a distance. Then her father was back. His hand felt warm and strong when held hers. “Haylee, do you know where you are?”

Frowning, she moved her head slightly. “You’re in the hospital. I brought you in early this morning.”

Closing her eyes, Haylee nodded.

“You are going to be just fine.” He rubbed her hand. “You need to rest. Go back to sleep. I’ll be right here.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Sitting in a chair next to her, Gene watched his daughter. For the first time, he noticed that she was looking a lot like her mother. Now, instead of cringing, that thought brought on a resigned smile.

Gene could tell that the doctor felt uncomfortable informing him that, “The only thing we can determine at this point in time is that she was having an unusually heavy menses.”

Dr. Lester was a tall, dark-haired woman in her fifties. “Her bleeding has stopped on its own. She appears to be out of danger, but I’d like to keep her for observation.”

Gene pushed the doctor for answers. With a few short, icy words, she told him that they would do everything they could.

Feeling unsettled but relieved to have made it through the crisis, Gene returned to Haylee’s bedside.

~ ~ ~ ~

When Haylee woke the next morning, that insatiable hunger had returned. Confined in a situation where she wouldn’t be able to satisfy it, she began to panic. She had to get out of there!

Between nursing shifts, Haylee asked her dad to go buy her a magazine. As soon as he was out the door, Haylee was out of bed and buttoning his jacket up over her hospital gown. Peeking into the corridor, she waited until it was clear. Spotting a laundry cart, she grabbed it and wheeled it away while searching for a sign that would direct her to the staff locker room.

In street clothes, it was easy to exit the building. Once free, Haylee ran, and ran, and ran. She made one stop, in a dumpster behind a grocery store. Hunger satisfied, for now, she burped forcefully. Her hands hurt ─ they ached deep down in the joints and had begun to feel hot. Making the decision not to worry over, yet, more weirdness, Haylee resumed her run.

In her front yard, Haylee stretched, feeling abundantly strong and powerful. There was another sensation there also, something strange and different. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Just then, a bug landed on her arm. When she moved to swipe it away, she heard a —thwap. She stared in astonishment. There was web­bing between her fingers!  She wiggled them noticing the increased resistance. She flicked the other hand—thwap! Now this hand had the webs too! They glistened and sparkled. When the webs were out, she felt a potent energy humming just below the surface of her skin, as if it were waiting to burst forth.

She flicked both hands at the same time—thwap! The webs were gone! She practiced making them appear and disappear until her fingers grew sore.

~ ~ ~ ~

Her dad had let her wear some of her mother’s clothes since none of her own fit anymore. Wearing a halter dress and sandals instead of jeans, cowboy boots, and snap-up shirts, Haylee’s classmates didn’t recognize her when she returned to school.

Speaking to no one in the corridor, Haylee shyly met many of the eyes trained on her. She saw interest in the boys’ faces and looks of scorn on the girls.

When she answered, “Here,” to roll call in homeroom, silence fell as everyone turned in her direction. Scrunching down as far as she could, Haylee shut her eyes and willed everyone to stop gawking.

Regaining his own composure, the teacher cleared his throat, “Well, Haylee…you are looking well.  I mean…did you have one of those glamor make-overs?”

The highlight of Haylee’s day had been Curtis ─ a boy she’d loved since fifth grade. He’d never looked twice at her. Recently broken up with his latest in a long list of girlfriends, he’d sought her out. “I heard that you suddenly turned ‘hot.’ I had to come to see for myself.”

Thirty minutes later, he’d asked Haylee out for her first date.

~ ~ ~ ~

 The night was clear and the stars twinkled brightly as Curtis drove his Ford pick-up. Haylee sat close to him on the bench seat. She willed herself to relax. When he turned the truck onto a deserted levee and parked about a quarter mile off of the main road, Haylee’s heart began to beat quickly. She could feel herself starting to perspire.

“This is my ‘get away’ place. I’ve never brought a girl here before,” he said as he hopped out of his door.

“Oh,” Haylee responded, feeling pleased.

Holding hands, they walked a little way. Turning a corner, they came upon a train track that went out over a trestle with the river flowing below. Helping her onto the railroad ties, they sat down on a rail. Curtis fished a couple of pennies out of his pocket showing her that the two coins had the current year. “I thought we could put them on the tracks to have the train fuse them together so we could remember our first date,” he explained as he put them in place.

Haylee was touched. “How nice!”

He leaned toward her to plant a soft kiss on her lips. It was over before she realized what he had done.

“We’ll have that memento before too long,” he whispered. He returned to kiss her again. This time lingering and gently coaxed a response.

Small rumbles began then, in Haylee’s core and the ones on the tracks.

Haylee was so absorbed, that it was a few moments before she realized that Curtis’s hand was on her breast. Shocked, she moved so she could push him away. Tearing his mouth from hers, Curtis whispered, “Don’t!”

Wedging her arms between them, Haylee complained, “Let go!”

Curtis held her tightly, “Relax. I won’t hurt you.”

Haylee could hear annoyance and frustration in his tone.

“I said stop!” she yelled. On its heels, another wave of quivering radiated through her middle, stronger this time.

“What the….?” Curtis said.

The train lights appeared a few miles out. Curtis jumped to his feet, pulling Haylee with him as he started walking quickly toward the river.

“Where are you going?” Haylee asked. Her voice was several octaves higher than before.

“Kick off your shoes,” he directed as he kept tugging her onward. The ground beneath them dropped away as they started across the trestle.

Bending over to grab a shoe in each hand, Haylee could feel herself trembling. Glints of moonlight undulated on the surface of the water.

Jumping from railroad tie to tie, they jogged between the iron tracks. Curtis urged her to hurry. Looking behind them, she saw the train approaching ─ fast!

“Curtis!” she shrieked.

Run!” He clutched her wrist and squeezed. He smiled with a wicked gleam in his eye.

Haylee’s heart hammered wildly. The tracks shook. She pulled her arm away from him, so she could focus on running.

The sound of the high, plaintive whistle was ear shattering. Curtis laughed, but Haylee couldn’t hear it.

They were about twenty yards from the far edge of the bridge when the train rolled onto the trestle. Running for her life, Haylee screamed. Adrenalin effectively masked the tremors that had her quaking from the inside out. The heavy rumble from the massive amount of iron and steel breathing down their necks had Haylee thinking about how her dad would feel when he found out how she had been killed. Haylee was preparing for the impact when she was roughly yanked at a right angle. She went flying, before tumbling down a grassy embankment.

It took a few moments to realize that she was still alive, that she had stopped moving, and that the engine and its cars were rolling past them. Nothing appeared to be broken. A white-hot anger flared up. Locating Curtis, she crawled toward him. He was laying on his back, laughing and shouting about how great that was!

Cursing, Haylee hit him with balled fists.

While holding her hands, he dragged her over to him and began kissing her. She struggled. He rolled on top of her. Between wet kisses, he kept repeating, “You are so awesome!” Curtis held her in place while grinding his hips into her pelvis. Haylee could feel his excitement.

The vibrations within Haylee intensified. Something shifted in her mind.

She ceased to be afraid. A foreign desire had taken over. It was something that didn’t care about boys with busy hands and dangerous senses of humor. It didn’t care about the physical act of intimacy. It wanted something much deeper than that.

Haylee lay beneath him, unnaturally still.

Curtis noticed that the fight had gone out of her and paused to look. Alarmed at what he saw, he rolled off her.

She sat up abruptly, considering him with a steely gaze.

Unnerved, Curtis scrambled to back away, he looked all around as if searching for an escape route.

Haylee stood up, still holding his eyes with hers. She unfastened her belt, letting it drop. In one simple movement, she removed her dress. Clad only in her underwear, Haylee wasn’t shy or embarrassed. “Is this what you want?” she asked in a slow, sultry tone.

Curtis couldn’t take his eyes off her now. He inhaled deeply, nodding. His breath caught in his throat, he reached out, bringing her to a kneeling position. He began kissing her again. Haylee did not resist. She made encouraging sounds. She did not want to frighten him again.

His hands roamed in places that would have had her fighting against him if she’d still been in her right mind. Greedily, Curtis clawed at her clothing. When Haylee felt the hooks of her bra let loose, she violently flipped him over.

An ‘oof’ escaped him as he slammed against the ground with a thud. With a detached point of view, like she was watching someone else, Haylee observed as her fingers, the webbing, in particular, molded themselves perfectly around the contours of his face.

Struggling furiously, Curtis tried to peel it away. His eyes bulged as he battled using every ounce of strength to save his life. The more he thrashed the tighter the webs adhered.

Witnessing the gruesome process was fascinating. As was the fact that it barely took any effort to hold him down. At the moment that Curtis accepted his fate, Haylee closed her eyes.

A feeling of indescribably sweet euphoria filled her. Infused with a glowing liquid light, all tension dissipated. With sparkling eyes, Haylee raised her weightless gaze to the stars. The webbed hand that had been bonded to Curtis’s mouth and nose released. Slowly and delicately, she lifted it away. She took a deep breath and stood—stretching languidly. In a daze, Haylee stood up and walked around to get used to this new sensation. Her lungs filled and expanded with breaths that drew in more air than she ever thought possible. Her thoughts came as swift as lightning. This is what all the strange things were leading up to!

After a while, Haylee wandered back to where Curtis lay, pale and trembling. Her eyes grew wide as she realized that she now knew a lot of things about him.

A surprise — since he always seemed so cool and confident — were the many nights he’d spent alone and afraid in an empty house when he was too young to fend for himself. His parents drank too much and fought too viciously. A distasteful look crossed her face when she learned that he planned to have sex with her and then describe it in graphic detail to his buddies at school.

Haylee dressed slowly. When she finished, she stood over him, watching. His pink skin glowed against the dark grass. He squirmed weakly reminding her of a maggot removed from its food source.  How did I ever think that I loved him? she wondered.  Haylee picked up his clothes and threw them in a heap near his feet. “Get dressed!” she demanded. When there was no response, she squatted next to him, shaking his shoulder. “Put your clothes on!”

He turned toward her. Haylee was startled to see the look on his face — or rather, the lack of a look on his face. It was as if he were asleep with his eyes open. In that instant, she understood that he was a shell emptied of its contents. Those…were now inside of her.

Haylee realized that he was not capable of putting his clothes on without help. Muddling through that awkward task, Haylee got him to his feet and tugged on his hand. His mechanical actions smoothed out and began to look almost normal once they got going. She led him back across the trestle.

On the other side, Haylee relived those awful moments running across the bridge and the shock of what she’d done to him.

Reaching the spot where he’d placed the pennies, her eyes scanned the area. Not far away, they lay on the track, blended together into one. Haylee picked up the fused metal. Her first thought was to put it in his pocket, but then she changed her mind.

______________

Story Prompt:  January-February 2016 Short Story Contest

SFF world

Theme: My Sweetest Downfall

Word Count Limit: 5000

Inspiration: This short story is an adapted excerpt from Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone.

Resources:

Haylee: Period of Change PDF download

Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone free (6+hr) audiobook download

Haylee web page

 

 

 

Messenger

Isobel’s youngest, and most beloved child, Agatha, had been chosen by the Order of Mystics to learn their ways at the tender age of four. When the girl had turned twelve, she’d been chosen again—this time, to receive the highest honor bestowed upon a member of their tribe; to deliver messages from their people to the Gods. Isobel wondered if the distinction was given because of a childhood rivalry between herself and the sister of the tribal leader.Messinger

For one year prior to Agatha’s Messenger Ceremony, Isobel’s family would receive tributes of food and service by every member of the community.  As the time for the sacrifice grew near, Isobel became increasingly anxious. She felt the eyes of her people on her every move. At night, she’d whisper desperately to her husband that they must do something to stop this.

Angry with her, he’d grown tired of repeating the same responses, “It is the will of the people. The Gods punishment would be severe. It is blasphemy to speak those words,” he turned away.

The thought of leaving her home and all that she knew frightened Isobel. But it terrified her even more to consider what would become of her if she continued to live among the tribe after they had killed the most beautiful thing that she had created—Agatha.

Isobel had constructed a plan. It began with a fire. Even the most devoted can be bribed for the right price.

“The Gods may not smite you,” the masked female said in a gravelly voice. It came to Isobel through a heavy cloud of cloying, sweet smoke. “However, the people will take their vengeance upon every member of your bloodline,” the oracle continued. “Their screams will echo into the heavens and their tortured deaths will be a blight upon your soul.”

Tilting her chin down, and holding mask away from her face the oracle spat into a bowl of liquid that contained several strands of Isobel’s hair. She tossed it into the fire pit between them. Another cloud of scented smoke stung Isobel’s eyes. She coughed and gagged while crawling out of the sacred, dark, womb-like space.

Isobel hurried back to her modest dwelling without uttering a single word.

Inside the smoky hut, Agatha removed her mask. It was forbidden to make personal statements when seekers came for visions and soothsaying. In this instance, she had broken her oath.

The heavy thrum of drum beats filled the air as Isobel and her family, dressed and decorated in their finest, walked the path that led to the steps of the altar. They stood together as the priest addressed the gathering. Agatha slipped a trembling hand into her mother’s as they stood, proud, shoulder to shoulder.

Shouts from the far end of the village reached the assemblage. For a moment all fell into a confused silence. As panic began to clutch the crowd, Isobel’s hand tightened on Agatha’s. Their eyes met and held. “Run!” yelled the mother to her daughter.

——
Story Prompt – WriteOn weekend challenge – in 500 words or less write a story about a messenger.