Writing Prompt #6 — The Plan — Derek Barton 2020

Fangs

August 9th, 1912

The rattle of the jail cell as it slid in its track struck me to my core. The grating metallic sound reverberated in my chest. Clanging at the end had a harsh fierce cold finish to it. My death knell?  Maybe.

I’m going to hear that sound for the next twenty years…

“Well…go in. He ain’t gonna bite,” chuckled the burly guard behind me. Officer Darryl Norris shoved me into my new cell mate.

“Jesus! They said I was getting fresh meat, but I didn’t know it was this raw!” A man, lanky and sinewy, scanned me up and down, his lips drawn into a tight white line. He had a shark’s sneer.

“This here is Kevin Harrison, Ralphie. The newest convict to join us here at the Joliet Correctional,” Norris introduced me. “Oh and by the way, he’s innocent of all charges.”

They both burst out into laughter. Norris turned and left the cell. After locking it, he called out, “Lights off at 7:00 PM.”

The top bunk was cleared off, a shelf on one wall next to it was also empty. Ralphie had the bottom bunk obviously. A shelf carved out of the cement bricks had his toiletries and a pair of worn out paperbacks. The walls of the small 6′ by 6′ cell were patchy and crumbling in disrepair. A single barred window gave a glimpse of gray skies but little else. We were on the fifth floor. A wispy odor of bleach clung in the air, the stench of urine barely masked underneath it.

My cellmate turned away from me and plunked down onto it without a word. His clothes were thin, gray like the walls, and had patches sewn on the elbows and knees. His shaggy black hair hung just above the collar, his patchy beard covered an acne-pocked face. He swept up one of the books and rolled over onto his side. Perhaps I had already been forgotten.

That’s fine with me. The less we talk, the better. I was in no mood to be nice.

I’m not going to keep telling everyone I’m innocent. That’ll only get me in trouble. I’ll let the fat lawyer do that on the Outside, but in here, I’ll keep low and out of sight.

I set a burlap sack of my own toiletries and a twin exchange of my prison uniform in the corner. A rickety, rusted ladder was built at the end of the bunks. I crawled on top of the hard stained mattress.

Someone had carved out the days in lines in one corner. Others had written nonsensical sentences or scribbled symbols. It boggled my mind. How many others had laid here before me?

My mind wandered and I recalled how my fat lawyer, I forgot his real name, kept spouting, “We have a solid case here. I am sure we can appeal and maybe you’ll even see Christmas back in San Diego, Kevin.”

“There’s nothing left in San Diego for me. She’s gone.”

“Oh… Yeah, sorry, kid.” He said offhand as he lit the end to a massive cigar. We were in a guarded conference room. Case file folders, random papers and the photos of the crime scene splayed out on the metal table before me. I saw her body splashed in streaks of crimson. Her long blonde hair pulled out in clumps floating in a large puddle by her head.

“You were shot in the war, right?” he asked, enveloped in a thick white cloud of smoke.

“Yes. In the shoulder. So?”

“That’s the ticket,” he slapped at the table and then slid about the papers as he searched through them. “Yes. Yes, here it is. You suffered loss of movement and mobility per this doctor’s report.”

He pushed the paper in front of me.

“I wish I had thought of this during the trial. Sherry Devenroe was killed by blunt force. The intruder crushed her head in swinging a metal baseball bat –” he stopped seeing me wince.

I finished his thought. “So, I couldn’t be the murderer because I can’t swing a bat with any such force. Right?”

“See.  You are a clever lad.”.

That was a bold lie. I wasn’t what I once had been, but it had been some time since the injury.

Now as I stared at the cobwebs slowly swinging about the ceiling, I wasn’t nearly as confident he could get me out.

I closed my eyes, clasped my hands, and started a silent prayer in my head.

You and I haven’t talked much and I’m not saying I have been the best of your children here on Earth, but I know I can do more, do better. I just need another chance. Please, Lord, please don’t let me rot away in here. Give me a second chance to go on and be free to spread the Good Word as Mama always spoke of. Be–

“Your Mama going to visit you in here?” Ralphie asked out of the blue.

“W-What?”

He chuckled to himself and rolled over onto his back. “I asked if your Mama was going to visit you in here? Going to spread her Good Word to us animals?”

“I…I don’t know.” I whispered in shock.

“You were speaking aloud, Kev.”

No I wasn’t.

“It happens a lot you know. Mamas all proud of their sons, fiercely defending them, professing the real crimes are against their little boys being falsely charged and imprisoned. Happens all the time. They stomp their tiny feet, wave their fists in the air in outrage and cry tears of injustice at the drop of a hat. Then… the first round of whispers come, the fingers pointing at them, then the not-so-quiet remarks made behind their backs. The odd looks from once friendly neighbors. The awkward excuses by friends why they suddenly can’t come by. It all adds up quickly. Mama’s will and determination fades. Mama comes by less and less, the letters stop. Happens all the time. You’ll see. Mama’s Good Word will be spoken less and less on your behalf!”

Ralphie’s cynical speech ate at me and the deepening shadows in the room swallowed me whole.

“You don’t know me. You don’t know my Mama. Shut the fuck up.” I said it, but there was no power behind it. It was going to be a long, hard night.

“True. True. I don’t know you. I guess, time will tell.”

He grew quiet and must’ve went back to reading.

The sun had gone down. My stomach rumbled aloud.

“You missed chow time?” he asked.

“I was on the bus coming here.”

“Yeah? Sorry. I didn’t like much what was served, but you eat what you get here. Still hungry myself.”

I pulled my arm up over my eyes, trying to muffle and hide my emotions. Thinking of Mama and how she’d become embarrassed by me really hit home. She said she knew I was innocent at the trial. Came each day to support me. But was Ralphie right? Would those lingering doubts and the shame erode her belief in me?  I had been convicted by an actual jury of my peers, right?

I am only nineteen! I don’t belong here! Oh, Mama!!

Suddenly a book flew up and landed on my lap. “Here. Books are a great way to keep your mind clear of your troubles.”

He was making an attempt to clear things between us. I appreciated that. “Thanks.” My voice scratchy and thick with emotion but he didn’t make light of it or comment.

For the next hour I tried to read but my stomach kept whining.

“Look, Kevin, I may be damned for doing this, but… maybe I can help you out. Come down, let’s talk.”

I set the lame mystery aside and went down. He was sitting up, his hands together between his knees. He smiled and extended his hand out to me. I shook it.

“Kevin Harrison, I’m Ralph Otara.” He moved over a few feet and gestured for me to sit.

“You have a lawyer right?”

“Yes. Says he’s going to appeal.”

“They all say that. Do you have anything else going for you or just your Mama at home? A plan for the future?”

I lowered my head and stared at a spot on the floor between my shoes. “After they found Sherry and took me in, my boss fired me from the car plant. I don’t have anything right now.”

“That second chance you were praying for… that chance to do more if you were free. Are you really interested in an escape?”

I blanched and pulled back to stare at the older man. He barely knew me, but was willing to invite me into his confidence and be involved in an escape plan? Talk like this could get you thrown into solitary or worse under the boots of the guards.

“You don’t know me as I said before. I’m young but not stupid. What is this really about?” The anger tinged my voice, welling up inside me.

He held up a hand trying to calm my suspicions. “Whoa, whoa. I’m just trying to help. I hate seeing such a young guy in here, wasting what little time we all have here in this world.”

Ralphie stood up and dug around in a small stack of wash cloths. He looked around and listened to be sure a guard wasn’t walking up. Then he turned around with that shark sneer and he held out a chocolate candy bar. “Peace offering.”

I smiled and felt foolish. I took it and greedily devoured it.

“Kev, look, I was sincere about an escape. When we get out, we’re all going to need to stick together, help each other on the Outside. I see a lot of potential in a young fellow like you. I admit it, getting you out will help me too.”

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing ever came easy to me or my mother. With my Pops not around, I learned that lesson quick. Only hard work gotcha ahead.

“I don’t know.”

“What would you lose? You think that asshole lawyer’s going to come through for you?”

“Not really.”

“When we get out — there’s a small group of us in on the plan — we’re going to be the Next Family.  You understand?  Out there, if you got a record, no one will do anything for you. Never going to look past your crimes. Or they imagine you done worse. So we stick together, stick to the plan and make the world bend to our will. You with me?”

“Maybe…” I said.

The lights blinked. “Lights out!” A voice bellowed out. The line of hanging lamps began shutting off as dictated.

“What’s this plan? You actually think you’ll get out?”

He didn’t answer. It was all silence.

In the dark, a sharp frigid air enveloped me, taking away my breath. Suddenly blind, all I could sense was the shift in weight on the bunk bed. He had moved closer.

“Ralphie?”

A hand shot out and clutched my throat. The fingers were coarse, gnarled and vice-like. The claws pricked my skin, drops of blood beaded up.

Ralphie — or what was once Ralphie — leaned in close. Blood red eyes opened up. He was so close his nose was almost touching mine. I could feel his hot damp breath as he snarled, then said, “We have a plan, a great plan. You will too. We all have it in here. We are all infected.”

A spark of moonlight flashed off the set of fangs just before they plunged into the side of my neck.

Writing Prompt 6

 

 

 

New Avenues to Me — Derek Barton 2020

Covers

I have been working hard on strengthening and fleshing out my two resources Pinterest and Patreon for you. These sites should give you even more access to me, my work and new materials I am developing.

For those who may not fully understand what Pinterest is, Pinterest is unique search engine for materials, reference resources and finding key elements that fit into your customized categories. In other words, I have currently fourteen “boards” (categories) where I can “pin” material that I feel fall into those categories. For example I have a board called Storyboard: Horror-Suspense & Crime Inspiration.

 

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When I find an image that intrigues me, I can pin it and keep in that folder. I also have a board for my Fantasy images. This gives me a handy place to get writing ideas as well as show you the readers where I get some ideas. In my board From My Writer’s Blog I have  six subsections with material showing my self-publishing tactics, some biography blogs, my writing prompt stories, etc.

Writing Snip 1

Some of the other boards are: From My Writer’s Blog, My Horror-Suspense & Grim Fantasy Collection, My Newsletters, Book Reviews, Book Cover Artwork, Landscapes, Batman & Other Comics, My Audiobooks, and My Favorite TV Series.

I can also do my own “pins” like these:

Pin Snip 1

Also on Pinterest I can place reviews on my books, details about my book & audio book giveaways, or I can share pins from other collaborators and authors I find on Pinterest.  If you want to see my work or other things on my site, you can click here and “follow” me so you can see my contributions and additions to the site.

Patreon Snip 1

Patreon I have previously talked about here. I want to this year do even better at maintaining and providing exclusive access to my work. I have decided that I will be writing a fantasy novella based on this:

Writing Prompt 3

The novella will be seen in chapter installments only on Patreon and sold only in paperback format once completed with signature and customized metal bookmarker to my patrons initially.  The other benefits for becoming patrons will still be there — now I just want to make it even better!!

Please see these two sites and let me know what you think of them and if you have suggestions, comments or ideas to provide even more value to you!!

 

 

Looking Back & Looking Forward – Bi-Monthly Goals — Derek Barton 2020

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It has been a while since I did a “Goal Blog” and I wanted to highlight what this Bi-Monthly System has done for me and what it can empower for you.

This is in no way a bragging post or “look at me” kind of thing. I’m listing these completed goals to be an example how much one could actually accomplish.

COMPLETED Goals since July, 2017:

(The goals crossed out are ones that I deemed not needed after all. The list of Uncompleted Goals are listed below as well. Also, not all of these goals were finished in the expected deadlines, but were completed and that’s why they’re on here.)

Finalize my Chapter Outlines for The Bleeding Crown

Complete the First Rough Draft of Bleeding Crown

Complete 52,000 words written (52 days * 1000 words)

Outline first two books of Elude Series

Write out three more Elude Sections

Compile and create an Ebook on the Writing Craft from my past blogs (completed but didn’t publish)

Design bookmarks for my books: 

Get the character portraits from artist by August and start getting Poker Card and Calendars made

Complete two Giveaways (one on Kindle Review and my own Indie Book Giveaway)

Complete one Newsletter a month

Create a book trailer video

Outline first two books of Elude Series.

Develop the list of Elude characters and develop their background

Create a NaNoWriMo Prep Folder in Scrivener and complete the list of development items.

On October 1st, start editing phase for The Bleeding Crown.

Design book cover for Rookie: Pitfalls of Year One.

Write new book blurbs for all my works and revamp all of the Amazon ads.

Complete a newsletter for each month.

Find a part-time post or two – extra income to help with new bills and investment in writing projects/marketing.

Start a new series of blog posts.

Complete NaNoWriMo Challenge: 50,000 words

Start Round #2 of Editing for The Bleeding Crown

Create marketing campaign for CWC Audio Book

Research Arizona Book and Comic cons.

Send out Monthly Newsletters by 15th of month

Keep up The Hidden saga on website every 2 weeks

Complete the 2nd wave of edits for The Bleeding Crown — Finish by 3rd Week of Jan

Start 1st wave of edits for Elude #1 — Begin by 4th week of Jan

Work on Cover for The Bleeding Crown — Begin by 2nd week of Jan

Complete story subplot and finalize The Bleeding Crown (25,000+ words) — Begin by 2nd Week of Jan

Finalize work on Marketing Campaign for Consequences Within Chaos Audiobook — Begin by 2nd week of Jan

Write a separate blog entry outside of goals and The Hidden Saga — Finish by 2nd Week of Feb

Complete Elude #3 book (30,000 to 40,000 words)

Have Elude #3 self-edited by the end of January 2019.

Professionally edited and published by the end of February 2019.

Set up another couple book-signing events for 2019

Complete the last chapters for The Hidden web saga

Started another web saga (Juxtaposed)

Look into the options for booth setups for my book showings.

Thinking about setting up a service to other authors for possible book cover design

Outline Elude new chapters for subplots and additional material – Finish by 2nd week of March

Finish writing new subplots/additional material – Finish by 3rd week of March

Complete 3rd Wave of edits & send out to Beta Readers – Finish by end of March

Complete 1st Wave of edits for Elude #1 – Finish by end of April

Complete the Cover for The Bleeding Crown – Finish by end of March

Get feedback from beta-readers – Finish by end of April

Complete the 4th wave and final edit for The Bleeding Crown – Finish by end of April

Complete the total outline for the third book of the Wyvernshield Series. Highest Priority.

Maintain a two-week production of the chapters for the web series, Juxtaposed.

Develop and begin the Evade Series outline.

Find a cover artist or design the Wyvernshield book covers myself

UNCOMPLETED GOALS:

Read one writing craft book a month

Prepare for book convention in Tucson

Get booth banners

Write 1,000 words per day – blogging, outlining, writing (61,000k).

Sign up for at least two comic-con/book festivals for 2019.

 

As of today, May 7th, 2020, I have 3 novels, 5 novellas under my name (starting back in 2016). I plan on writing through rest of my life, but it is amazing what I have worked through and accomplished by using these guidelines.

Truly it is all down to making a plan, sticking with the plan and persevering through the obstacles.

Now to continue on for 2020…

 

January thru April’s Completed Goals:

Edit Evade Book #1, Book #2

Craft Book Blurb

Designed YouTube website with book trailers for all 5 books & series

Purchase/design book covers for all three books

Set up Beta-readers of Evade #1

Publish Book #1

Once per quarter do an ad (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Amazon)

Connected with Pubby.com for book reviews

Bought a new table & cart for book signings

Found a new set of book stands

Established a Writing Prompt Series done almost bi-weekly

Completed a week-long course on Amazon Ads & Campaigns

May & June Bi-Monthly goals

Donate older book versions to libraries

Connect with my beta-readers for Evade #2

Continue writing and complete Evade #3

Maintain the Amazon Ad campaign

Research to see if anyone is doing book signings in August

Write Fantasy or Horror Writing Prompt stories every two weeks

Do more exclusive posting on Patreon

Get a writing craft audio book

Design new metal bookmarkers for Evade and The Hidden

Work on a way to expand my Email Subscriber List

 

 

Thanks again to everyone that checks in on me, supports my efforts, and provides a lot of beneficial assistance!!  I truly could not get it all done with out you.

 

 

 

Writing Prompt #5 — Are You Ready? – Derek Barton 2020

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“Death is coming to you, today. Are you ready, Steve?”

Stephen Caldero nearly fell off his aisle seat. His head reflexively snapped up from the newspaper article to stare in the wrinkled face of an elderly woman. She had wisps of blonde mixed into her thick white hair. Her spectacles were pushed high onto the bridge of her nose. She sat in the middle seat of the bus bench, clutching an umbrella and a rolled up copy of Newsweek. A slight smile on her face and the question shining in her pale blue eyes.

“What?  What the hell did you say?” He shouted back, his face turning red.

She recoiled, whimpering. “I asked if you had read the weather report for today? I forgot to this morning. I’m sorry.”

“Everything okay back there, Ms. Richards?” The bus driver called out, watching in his rearview mirror and glaring at Steve.

“Um yes,” she replied.

Steve now reddened with embarrassment. He shook his head. “No! No, you didn’t. You said ‘Death was coming for me’  Why? Why would say that?”

Ms. Richards blinked back at him, she straightened without replying and walked behind them to sit three rows away from him.

Must’ve been dreaming. I… was up pretty late, but, man, that seemed so real.

He couldn’t bring himself to turn around and apologize. The bus ride was quiet and without incident to his stop at Bronx Ave.

The gray structure housing Pottermen & Felsby resembled more a modern prison than the prestigious accounting firm. He worked as Accounting Researcher II for nearly a year in his three years tenure with them. He glanced up at the towering building and wished he felt more satisfaction or pleasure from his employment and career.

He entered the quiet lobby and made a beeline for the elevators. When he pushed the button it occurred to him then just how little enjoyment or pride he got from the position. What had he really achieved?

Death is coming to you, today. Are you ready, Steve?

The words paraded in a loop inside his mind.

“Certainly not,” he growled low to himself as he entered the elevator doors.

 

****

 

In the western corner, he had a modest office with glass walls to somewhat isolate him from the noises of the work

floor.  The fourth wall behind his decade old desk had a dirty window framing an ugly, crowded parking lot below. He kept the blinds mostly pulled tight to keep the sunlight and glare off the computer monitors. It didn’t help much to drive out the ever-present gloom. The florescent lights were a harsh purple-white.

Steve sat down with a sigh — the day was doomed to be long and tedious.

Accountants did not die of natural causes. They gave up and volunteered. The bad joke crossed his thoughts adding to his inner turmoil.

He glanced at the calendar planner spread across the desk top. It had scribbles and notes all over it like an alley wall of graffiti.

April 29th,

  • -Marketing @ 9:00, -Meeting with Grace H, -After lunch conference with Timothy K. -Death.

He jumped at the sight of the word, splashing the office door and walls with the remains of his Starbuck’s coffee.

Shit shit shit shit!

His eyes locked on the word, his skin prickled and the hair on the back of his neck rose in tuffs. His hand came up to stifle the building scream in his throat.

A knock at the door made him jump again out of his chair. “What?”

Through the fake plastic wood door he heard the muffled words, “Mr. Caldero, do you need paper towels?”

Sheryl Lehman leaned over and peaked around the door to look at him through the glass. Concern mixed with curiosity battled for position on her pudgy face.

“Uh, yes, thank you.”

He knew before looking back down at the calendar the word would not be there.

Death? What in the hell is happening?

He studied the date and appointments.

April 29th,

  • -Marketing @ 9:00, -Meeting with Grace H, -After lunch conference with Timothy K. of Derath Inc.

Sheryl entered and started mopping up the desktop. He took a few towels and cleaned off the door with shaking hands, thanking her with numb lips.

“It’s okay. It’s gotten to all of us, Mr. Caldero,” she said.

“Hmmm?”

“You heard, of course, about Joe Barness? Weird world we live in, huh?”

Steve watched her a second as he tried to recollect who the name belonged to. “Was that the front lobby clerk, right?”

“You had to notice he wasn’t downstairs this morning,” she replied, throwing away a pile of used paper towels. “He was mugged last night on his way home. Shot and left in a pile of trash bags on Hamperton. He’s alive at Metro Regional, but they don’t know if he’ll recover! Lordy, so sad!”

“That’s horrible.”

“It just proves ya gotta live each day like it’s your–“

“Shut up, Sheryl!”

Her jaw dropped at the cutting remark. Her face frozen in shock and hurt.

“I’ve got it from here. Uh..um, sorry.  I’m not feeling well.” He shrugged apologetically.

She left, not bothering to shut the door. Steve grabbed his laptop and newspaper. He was going to work from home today.

 

****

 

“Floor 3, room 2AB,” the nurse pointed to the elevator bank on the right of her circular station desk.

Steve nodded.

He wasn’t close to Joe Barness and spoke occasionally with him

about football drafts and such from time to time. Yet he was compelled to see the man. He even had a card and a small box of chocolates in his hand. It felt lame to bring a gun shot victim chocolate but was there anything typical or even appropriate?

Moments later he found the room and Joe lying under several sheets and a blue blanket, hooked up with multiple tubes and wires like some sort of dimented Christmas tree.

No one was visiting.

“Are you family, sir?” A man asked him from behind another circular desk.

“No. I work with Joe,” he answered. The nurse grimaced but Steve cut him off. “I won’t be long — I don’t think he has anyone here to stop by. I thought it would help maybe leaving a card and a gift for when…when he wakes up, ya know?”

The grimace melted from his face. “Okay. Yeah, go ahead. Just don’t stay long or try to wake him. The man’s got a helluva battle ahead.”

There was a single cold metal chair in one corner of the ICU room. It was drafty and had a permanent, stale chemical smell. Steve sat down without bothering with the lights. He put the box down with the card on a shelf. No one else had sent anything. It was a truly lonely way to die.

What am I doing here? I barely know him. 

You’re here because of the death threat. His dark thoughts scolded him. You are here on a purely selfish hope that if you show this dying man one little bit of kindness then you’ll be spared from the Grim Reaper! You selfish asshole!

Go home, go back to…

Joe’s eyes were open. They were boring into his.

Steve gasped and shrank back into his chair. The man’s finger rose slowly and stabbed at the opposite corner of the room. A thick gray curtain hanging from the ceiling blocked most of the light from entering and the shadows were deepest there. Something inside the black alcove moved… or at least he thought something twisted in the pitch black. Something that had been there all along, but hadn’t moved until it was pointed out.

Words crawled out of Joe’s lips, words barely audible but held a power over Steve.

“He’s here for you, not me.”

 

****

 

Steve’s breath caught hard inside his chest, spasms wracked his whole frame and he wheezed from exhaustion and effort. His massive oak bed frame, a family heirloom he’d inherited from his grandfather, now leaned against the mostly empty china cabinet which was also propped up against the door.

YOU are a complete fucking idiot! He whirled to scan the apartment. All four of the apartment windows had been covered with furniture and mattresses. Every lamp and light in the small condo had been turned on, eating away any trace of shadow. Even the kitchen table had been dragged into the living room to block the twin balcony doors. It was an impressive amount of effort, but it was completely fruitless at the same time.

How do you stop Death Incarnate from entering your door? It’s completely implausible that your Serta  Pillowtop Mattress will do the deed, dumbass!

He rubbed at his sweaty scalp and pulled at his cheeks with both hands in his anxiety. But what am I to do?  I’m not just going to give in. I’m too young! This isn’t fair. I’m only twenty-three goddamn it!

Coming up through the floor vent, Steve heard a loud bang followed by several shouts.

“Oh god! It’s here!” He moaned in pity. His heart leaped into his throat.

More shouts and then slamming doors could be heard.

“FIRE! FIRE! EVERYONE OUT!”

Steve’s shoulders dropped. His hands hung limply at his sides. Seriously. A fire, huh? He could swear he already smelled a whiff of smoke in the air.

He grabbed at one corner of the bedframe and struggled to drag it an inch.

While it seemed an eternity, less than ten minutes had passed as he clawed at the blocking furniture. He managed to squeeze past his door to stand in the smoke-filled hallway.

He was not going out this way! The Calderos had always been a family of survivors and fighters. His older brothers had both been in the military branches and his father had died on the streets as one of the city’s most decorated police officers. Perhaps now Steve could prove all of them wrong. He was going to make it! The mantra beat like a drum in his head.

A brief second in the stairwell at the third floor landing, he had a bad scare. Flames had already brought down the tiles and support beams to block his path. He ran back to the fourth as the building had two stairwells on opposite sides of the structure. Desperation put extra energy in his strides.

Just as he shoved the door to the other stairwell, a sharp and high-pitched cry came out from the gloom.

“Help! Help me!” It was a child’s voice coming from one of the apartments.

 

****

 

Sandee Mitchell, eight years old and left home alone, shivered in a brown blanket wrapped about her shoulders and back. Smudges of smoke and ash had darkened her hair and caked along the base of her chin and neck.

A female EMT tech was wrapping swathes of gauze around her burnt arm as Sandee rested on a stretcher in the back. A male EMT was hooking up a bag of saline.

She stared at the coil of bed sheets at her feet and the length still tied at her waste. They hadn’t gotten around to taking it off her yet.

Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks.

The male EMT leaned down to her ear. “It’s okay, honey. You’re safe now.”

She didn’t look back or even acknowledge him. All she could focus on were the stranger’s words as he rushed out onto the patio. The stranger who had burst into her apartment and found her balled up outside.

“I am ready. You’re not taking her! I’ll go!” The stranger had spoke aloud as if in an argument.  It had been his fourth trip to get bedsheets. 

“What?” she asked him.

At this point, the fire engulfed the top of the building. Smoke billowed around them as he frantically tied the knotted sheets around her.  He then wrapped a blanket around her to protect her from flames and heat.

“Hold on tight to this, don’t let it slip!” He shouted to be heard over the crash and roar of the inferno. “I’m going to lower  you down. I’m making you an honorary Caldero!”

But it was his last words which haunted her at nights, stuck to her soul. He kept screaming it out in the air as he lowered her from their apartment patio.

“I AM READY! YOU ARE COMING FOR ME ONLY! YOU HEAR ME?”

 

 

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I took a little liberty with this one, but it was too good to not try!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Prompt #4 — Max the Most -Derek Barton 2020

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Writing Prompt #4

Rain splattered along the roof and porch, washing all the late winter and spring grime away. Geoff Raynes loved it. He was thrilled by the adverse weather. After the last couple weeks he’d had, it was a refreshing change. He hoped the evening shower would last all night. He would crack the window a couple inches on the bedroom window just so he could fall asleep to it. Something the twenty-eight year old hadn’t done since his youth in Georgia.

He stretched out his arms in a big exaggerated yawn then he picked up the remote to lower the television volume. Traffic along the single lane highway approximately forty yards from his front door usually petered out around six at night and rarely had late visitors. At least that had been his experience so far the last two weeks.

The house was new to him and a recent rental.  His latest troubles sparked to life right after his course finals. For the past three years, Geoff was a literature professor downtown in Seattle.  This year’s end results for his students had been abysmal and a third had actually failed. This was unusually high and when he was grilled by the faculty board, his answers were as weak as most of his students. He tried to blame the current course material being too obscure. He promised to find a better selection of texts, but the look in their eyes deemed this a major cop out.

Then Sammi left him, dumping him without much regard for him or his pleas. She wanted to leave the school and return to her hometown in Andrews, North Carolina. He accused her of seeing other people or old lovers, but she said she was too young for the seriousness of their relationship. Sammi claimed he was too possessive. Geoff couldn’t believe she’d be so selfish and cold. Back and forth the argument escalated. The night had ended ugly and alone.

Then of all things his house had been burned down! It was looking like a faulty electrical outlet was to blame.  Luck, however, graced upon him and he soon found the listing for this little abode away from it all, nestled in pine trees and cozy, rolling hills outside the city.

The sound of a chair falling over broke his train of thought. It came from outside on the porch. If the television remained on, he would have missed the sound surely.

He pulled aside the vertical blinds.

A glowing pair of orbs swiveled slowly to stare back at him. Geoff gasped in reaction, then blushed seeing it was a medium-sized dog.  Mutt must’ve come onto his porch to avoid the soaking downpour.

He considered for a moment, then the old dream as a kid having his own dog percolated up in his mind.

“Why not? I can use the company tonight,” he mumbled aloud.

He opened the door and heard the muddy dog softly whine at him through the screen door.

“Bet you could use a bite to eat too.”

The dog carefully poked its head to check out the interior to the living room. It was a young pitbull, mostly black fur except a few splotches of white on its nose and a patch on its chest. A silver pendant hung from its light blue collar. Geoff read its small letters:  “Meet Max the Most” on the back it had a phone number.

“Is someone missing you, pooch?”

It opened its wide jaws and let its long tongue loll out and gave him a friendly grin. It then shook with all its strength to get mud and water from its fur.

“Dammit!” Geoff’s hand came down hard and smacked it along one side of its head.

The dog’s grin disappeared instantly and it only stared at him. The bright yellow eyes were intelligent, probing his face. He felt they were challenging him or maybe judging him. The experience was quite unnerving.

“Well, what do you expect? Look at this!” Geoff snapped. “I don’t like messes!”

He then sighed and took in a few breaths. “Okay, maybe a little of an overreaction there, Max. Sorry. Let’s do a quick bath so we don’t have any more messes okay?” He petted the animal’s head and rubbed the ears vigorously to add to the apology. It softened its glare.

He led it to a small kitchen, leading to a shallow closed in patio. It was similar to a greenhouse with wall-to-wall windows. As he sprayed Max’s muddy legs with a soft spray of a garden hose, clumps of mud and black ash went into a drain in the center of the floor.

“Sheesh, boy. What have you been playing in?”

 

****

The next morning, he found Max the Most laying before the front door. Geoff rushed over in his bare feet, the wood floor considerably cold. “Here! Let’s get you out before you make a pile I don’t want to pick up.”

Max whined and pranced in front of the door. “Looks like the rain is going to be here all day! I’ll work on finding you some–“

As soon as he turned the handle and opened the door a bare two inches, Max forced it wide with a paw and shot out.  Geoff could only watch as the pitbull sprinted back down the wet road, heading into Seattle. It didn’t glance back once.

“Use me, huh? Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,” he cursed to himself. Max appeared to be the typical male — any port in a storm.

He watched it a bit more with hands curled into fists on his hips. Guess that’s not a childhood dream I’m going to fulfill after all.

He shut the door and went to the kitchen. His laptop still open to a hiking enthusiast web page. Returning to the chair, he poured some milk into a bowl of cereal, trying to not get overly worked up by Max’s sudden departure. He returned to the article he was reading on the top five ranked backpacks for long treks.

Geoff had the summer to himself and considered hiking the Rockies. “Maybe teaching isn’t my real calling?” he wondered aloud. His eyes glanced over at the swollen knuckles of his hand.

He spent the rest of the day researching what he would need for the hike and living in nature. His mind returned often to the strange dog and wondered what would happen to it.

Maybe it was due to being in a new house, but Geoff felt on edge all day. There were eyes on him he was certain. Somehow he was being watched. He didn’t like it and his mood soured at the invasion of his privacy.

 

****

That evening, Geoff woke to a set of soft raps on wood, like thumping sounds.

He must’ve fallen asleep after his meager frozen dinner. Sitting up on the wore-down couch, he scanned the room. Finding nothing, he snatched the remote from the coffee table and snapped the television off. The storm outside had returned but only drizzled with light rain. Lightning flashed several times but was not accompanied with thunder.

The sound of the thumps had been oddly muffled, maybe coming from the back of the house and were out of place among the noises outside.

He walked to his bedroom to get his jacket and put on his shoes. In the center of the room, he froze in his tracks. Swaying on his feet, he stood with his head cocked to the side.

He swore he heard a woman talking. Again the sounds and words were muffled, but they were still audible and feminine.

What the hell, he thought. He tiptoed over to the nightstand and picked up a heavy flashlight. The thick metal handle felt right in his hand and lent him confidence. He liked this tool a lot.

An abrupt clash of thunder caught the small house and shook it as if in anger.

Upon opening the door and stepping through, fat rain drops slid down his neck and between his shoulders. It was miserable outside and threatening to get worse. He half-jogged to the back of the house, shining the flashlight ahead, yet when he turned the corner his feet slid in mud and he fell off the sidewalk. Cursing, panting, and sitting in mud he suddenly heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway in the front of the house.

Again, he wondered what the hell was going on tonight.

He got to his feet and worked his way carefully back to the porch. There, at the top of the porch steps stood a man, facing his door.

“Can I help you?” Geoff called out.

The man shot a step forward, spun around, obviously startled from Geoff’s sudden appearance.

“Oh, hey, sorry,” he apologized.

The man, white and middle-aged, still wary and embarrassed, asked, “Are you Geoffrey Raynes by chance?”

He joined the man under the cover of the porch as the storm went up another level. The man had thinning blonde hair and fresh stubble on his chin.

“Yes, I am. How may I help you? It’s rather late, you know.”

“My turn to apologize, Mr. Raynes. I’m Detective Cole Jacobs of the Seattle Police Department.”

Geoff grinned but didn’t offer his hand for the officer to shake. He waited patiently for the man to continue.

“Uh, well, yes. I drove out here to ask you a couple questions I had concerning a case I’m working on. Would it be okay to talk inside where we could warm up?”

“No. I’d rather not. I don’t like messes.”

The detective squinted at him after hearing the response and studied Geoff a second. “Okay. Alright.” He paused as he gathered his thoughts, then continued. “You are a literature professor, correct?”

“Yes.”

“You had a student by the name of Samantha Anne Price in one of your courses?”

“Yes.”

“She has been reported missing. Have you seen her recently? Or have you had any contact with her?”

It was Geoff’s turn to examine the detective. “Well… I guess you wouldn’t have come all this way to question me if you didn’t already have some of those answers and know about our former relationship.”

Jacobs remained quiet.

“No, I don’t know where she’s gone. We broke up a couple weeks ago. March 10th, Tuesday night –“

“That was a rather bad night for you, Mr. Raynes. You lost your house that same night.”

“One didn’t have anything to do with the other,” Geoff snapped at him. He wiped at the back of his neck and collected himself. “She told me she was heading home and that she wasn’t interested in having a long distance relationship. I was upset, but I couldn’t talk her out of it. Once she’s made her mind, she’s like a bloodhound on a scent.”

“Was that the last you spoke to her?”

“Yes.”

The detective pulled out a pen and pad from his jacket pocket and noted the information.

“I understand your suspicion and I can see why it appears odd, but there’s nothing going on. I am sure she’s actually in Puerto Rico with her gaggle of girlfriends getting drunk and living it up. Not the first time she’s runaway and vanished. Ask her parents! They’ll tell you.”

Jacobs didn’t write anything down but was staring at Geoff’s muddy pants and shoes. “You like walks in the pouring rain, sir?”

“Actually I thought I heard someone in my backyard when you came–“

Loud barking cut him off.

Max the Most had returned it would seem.

“It was your dog not an intruder,” the detective reasoned.

Geoff sighed in irritation. “Apparently, but it’s not my dog.”

“Is that black ash on your sneakers there?”

Among the clumps of mud, there was a smear of black ash along the top of his shoe and streaks along the white laces.

“Have you been at your former house tonight?”

“No. Besides I think it’s just mud. Hard to tell–“

Again the dog barked incessantly. The barking continued on and on.

The detective tried to ignore it. “So that I’m understanding your story here, you had a fight with Samantha Price, she dumped you and that’s the last you spoke to her. You believe she didn’t vanish but ran off to a beach with some friends?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“How odd,” the detective murmured aloud.

“What?”

“Well, that’s the same story Scott Peterson said to the police the day after he had butchered his pregnant wife and threw her–“

“That’s it! This is enough. Get the hell off my porch!”

“Okay. Okay. For now, I’ll leave you, but we’ll be talking soon, Mr. Raynes.”

Jacobs nodded and walked down the steps.

Geoff shook from cold and outrage, watching the officer get into his car.

Another crash of thunder rattled the house at the same moment a dog barked and howled from the back yard.

Goddamn it, Max! Shut up!  He marched again down the steps, his fingers curled into tight fists, heading to the backyard as the detective backed his car out of the driveway.

The barking continued even as he approached the crawlspace under the wooden back porch. Max had dug himself a little cave in the mud.

“You gotta be kidding me,” he groaned. “Come on, dog. Out!”  The dog was due for a lesson about respecting property.

He shined the flashlight and spotlighted the dog’s hind end. It slowly twisted its head and grinned mischievously back at him. It’s snout crusted in black ash.

First thing Geoff spotted was more black ash coating Max’s tail and back paws. The second was the partially buried, ash-covered skull looking back up at him. A pair of long femurs and a partial rib cage poked out from the wet mud.

Another spotlight circled the cache of bones. “Well, hello there, Max the Most.” Detective Jacobs smiled down at Geoff and the pitbull. He stood behind him and already had his pistol in hand.

The detective pointed the flashlight at the dog. “I guess you never knew Sammi had a pitbull. Dog has been missing since March 10th, Tuesday night….”

 

Writing Prompt #3 — The Flight of the Dirithi – Derek Barton 2020

Writing Prompt 3

 

Juellyt shook awake but didn’t raise her head off the cottony bed pillow. Another shrill scream pierced the early morning hours. She didn’t recognize the source, but guessed it came from Yabina’s hut. A second child from another hut farther away joined the first, ending in sobs. 

More shouts, deeper in bass, came from guards near the southern wall.

Cries of alarm sprang out all over the village. Juellyt squeezed her eyes shut, praying to wake from this sudden nightmare. Her breath burst from her. She hadn’t even realized she was holding it in. Her chest hurt from the effort.

“Juel! Juellyt!! Come, come, child.” The last shred of hope she had faded as her eyes opened to see her mother, Ckala standing in the doorway to her room, her arms out and beckoning to her. In one hand, she gripped a thin, leathery pouch. A backpack straddled her shoulders, filled with their travel clothes and road rations.

“We know what this means. It’s over, nothing can be done now but hide. We must hurry,” her mother pleaded over the crash and clatter of men battling near by. Horses pounded the dirt paths near the front of their stone home.

“Kampen-yans! Kampen-yans! Run. They have found us.” Other shouts echoed the call. The horses went deeper into the village, their riders warning others in the bare light of dawn.

Juellyt grabbed her blanket and wrapped it tightly over her shoulders and head. Silent tears traveled down her cheeks. She thrust her feet into her leather thong sandals at the foot of her bed.

They’re gone? Father, brother…lost?

“Hurry up, we’ve got to go to the bridge,” her mother said as she grabbed Juellyt’s hand and hauled her down the hallway. “If we should get separated, head there and wait for me in that bed of tanglevines. If I haven’t come by sunrise, go under the bridge and find the three black stones. You’ll recognize them on sight. Dig through.”

“Where are we going, mum?” Juellyt grew even more scared at the sound of her own voice. It somehow diminished in the night, shrunken to the frightened pleas of a toddler.

“It’s not important where we are going, only that we get away from here. Please, run!”

Outside the door to their stone house, the shouts for help and the screams for mercy mixed and filled the air. The sounds of battle echoed in from the wood gate house along Harner Road. Horses whinnied in fright, metal clashed with metal, wood cracked and splintered. Women begged while children shrieked. Thick and gravelly voices answered  in foreign, violent tongues.

Others ran alongside the pair, making for the bridge at the back of the village which crossed over a minor rivulet of the Corafin River to the other side, bracketed by heavy pine tree woods.

The trek there was an eternity. Other villagers were bolting over the river when they arrived. They bypassed the bridge entrance and climbed down the short but deep embankment. Surefooted, her mother made a direct run at a pile of three, smooth black river stones. She let free Juellyt’s hand, used both hands to part the rocks. Underneath was a strong fishnet, covered in wet leaves and mud. “Help, Juel. Grab the other end so we can drag it away.”

When they did so, the shallow mouth to a tunnel appeared. However, the only way to go inside was to crawl on hands and knees.

Her mother rummaged through the backpack and removed a silver box. It popped open revealing a smooth gold stone, glowing with an amber aura. The stone barely gave more light than a wax candle, but it was enough.

“Let’s go.” She plopped down on her belly and began to squeeze inside.

Not one to be squeamish about mud or dirt, Juellyt did balk going in the pitch black after her mother. It felt wrong, dread coiling around her neck like a hangman’s noose. She willed herself to enter the earthen grave, defying her instincts.

Inside the light illuminated enough only for her to see the soles of Ckala’s sandals as she crawled ahead. Moments went by without a word between them. Her brother’s face appeared in her mind’s eye. Fresh tears and sobs choked her, stopping her from trailing after.

“Shhh. Shhh. Juel, we’ll be alright. Shhhh.” Her mother tried to calm her.

Juel shook from cold as much as from her emotions. Water dripped from the tunnel’s ceiling as foul stenches burned her nose and made her gag. This was not a proper life. Nothing was ever resolved.

When the sudden grief faded, she had to ask,”Mum, why?”

“What?”

“Why? Why are we always hunted?” Juellyt was nearing her twelfth  moon cycle. All her memories revolved around them being on the run. It wasn’t normal. She noted by her fifth moon that other families could put down roots and live in seeming peace.

Her mother stopped and twisted to look down the tunnel at Juellyt. The pain in her eyes spoke volumes.

“I never wanted this type of life for you, sweet-tears. There is a curse lying in your veins.”

“What does that mean? Did Da and Je’steo–“

Her mother shook her head violently. “No! Not now. We grieve another sunrise. Not today! We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing. They won’t stop hunting us.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Some day it will be clearer to you, but for now, we don’t have time to work it out.”

“No!  Tell me the true reason we are different. Please!”

 The words came slowly and whispered in the dark like all dangerous secrets. “You are Dirithi.”

Dirithi? Dirithi! A half-dragon offspring. The last heirs of dragon blood. Not human, not dragon. Shapeshifters.

“No more talk. Come!”

The single word consumed her and bellowed like a tempest inside her skull. It explained so much and yet conjured so many more questions.

They took up the hike again under the river. The winding tunnel went deep underground and paralleled the rapid stream.

Finally, faint dawn light shined through the exit. As her mother crawled out, she graced Juel with a broad, relieved smile. Seeing it light up Ckala’s face, her own smile crept out as she stood on her feet, covered in grime.

An arrow whistled through the air, catching her mother in the shoulder, throwing her to the ground. Another arrow hit the ground between Juellyt’s sandals.

“Svaklan, I told ye they were predictable. Right where I said, right when I said. No?” A man spoke with robust confidence as he came down the embankment on the back of a brown horse. He had a crossbow in his arms, an arrow already loaded and trained on her.

Ckala didn’t answer the man’s taunts, only shook her head in stubborn defiance. Her lips pressed into a thin line.

Another man with a pair of long ponytails gliding down the back of his head, nodded and grinned through his thick black beard. “Aye, m’lord. Ye do have the sight.” He strode over and placed a thick, gray-furred boot on Ckala’s chest as she remained prone and panting from the pain.

“Indeed,” the Kampen-yan Lord said as he rode his horse up a few feet in front of Juellyt. He then followed up with a mock bow. “All these wasted years, but here we are, the end of our storied chase. The Gryatt is mine and will be returned after all.”

The Lord looked over Juellyt, meeting her wide and terror-filled stare. “Aye, ye do have but good reason for fear. The deep darkness ye will bring to the land will be of legend. The power I’ll have will be even more.”

Ckala slapped the ground at her side, getting Juel’s attention. “No! No! Juellyt, remember above all else, you must survive and grow stronger!”

Before the bearded Svaklan could react, her mother thrust the small leather pouch into the air and striking it hard against a pine sapling along the muddy river bank. As a gold and silver talisman slipped from the pouch, Ckala screamed, “Akkei Maliss!”

A blast of fire and wind erupted, the magical pulse throwing all apart from each other. Juellyt laid on her back inside the tunnel, her breath stolen.

What was that? Was it from the talisman? 

“…remember above all else, you must survive and grow ever stronger!” Ckala’s words repeated to her.

After several moments, she could breathe normally and she struggled back to the cave entrance.

She was ill-prepared for the sight before her.

The horseman lay pinned and struggling weakly under his beast, while Svaklan laid motionless on his stomach partially in the water. The stream pulled and nudged at him, trying to take his body away downstream. Her mother’s form was twisted and wrapped around the base of another larger pine. Motionless.

But at the spot where the talisman had been appeared a mammoth watery circle. The talisman had been invoked and a portal now stood towering over her.

It had to lead to one place…

“Akkei Maliss!”

 In the distance, breaking branches and baying hounds could be heard. Other Kampen-yans must’ve followed after the sounds of the magical explosion.

More words repeated softly inside her mind. We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing.

To herself, she whispered, “I’ll go where my enemies will fear to follow.”

Per the legends passed down by the tribal elders, the world of Akkei Maliss was a world where the vilest creatures came to roost. In the past, even her mother, always so brave, wouldn’t dare to utter its name. This was a world where the snow fell black…

This was a world where alone as a Dirithi, she’d learn to survive and grow ever stronger.

She nodded to her mother’s form and whispered final words of love. It was time to act. She marched slowly but with determination and resolve into the portal to Akkei Maliss.

And she’d return to reign supreme once and for all.