Finish the story-the Travelers

I have been tagged by Lisa to finish the story. I like these challenges, they’re fun. In my case it is getting me out of a slump. I had a killer eye infection for the last week and my headache was so intense that blogging was not possible. So, thanks Lisa for getting me moving again. Please check out her blog as well as all of the other fine bloggers who collaborated on this project.

Rules

1. Copy the story as you receive it.

2. Add to the story in some fashion.

3. Tag another person to contribute to or finish the story.

4. Please use FTS as a tag so I can find it or link back to part 1.

5. Have Fun!

The Travelers – Teresa’s Introduction

Alexander and Alistair waited in line to check on their flight. It didn’t matter how long the line was, or how tired they were of waiting in it, they were happy to be getting away for a week. Life had not been difficult, but it was still nice to finally get away–alone.

Alexander couldn’t wait to show Alistair around Pompeii and Alistair couldn’t wait to show Alexander around his old home. They enjoyed people watching in the airport and passed time telling stories of the old days.

Finally, it was their turn to check in. Alexander sat his luggage in the bin and watched as a scrawny kid retrieved it and threw it on a conveyor belt. He cringed and crossed his fingers that his cologne didn’t break.

It wasn’t until they were standing by the large window at their gate watching their luggage be thrown around like last week’s trash that they noticed it. Something was not right.

“Hey, Alistair,” Alexander said, pointing out to the luggage cart. “Do you see that?”

Alistair followed Alexander’s finger and squinted. “Yeah. What is that?”

“I can’t be sure, but it looks like …

Part two – Paula of Light Motifs II

The luggage on one of the other carts was all black with a lightning bolt logo. And sure enough, a black stretch limo with the same logo pulled up directly to the plane and out tumbled the crazy rockers the Zappers and their entourage.

“Oh no,” Alistair moaned. “Those lunatics will be on our flight!”

Alexander sighed. “Horrible. They always get up to some ridiculous shenanigans, but surely they’ll behave themselves in the air?”

“It’s too late to change our tickets?”

“Well, yes. Our luggage is being flung into the bowels of this tin can as we speak.”

The men stared glumly out the window, their previous good mood soured. When they were called to board, they stood in line without speaking, having mutually decided to stoically bear the flight and have fun after landing, when the nutty rockers had gone.

Women chatted behind them in line. “Oh my God! Did you hear that the Zappers are on our flight? I’m totally gonna sneak into first class to see them!”

“I have such a crush on Nikki Zapper! I bet he does something wild and we have to make an emergency landing!”

Alistair and Alexander looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

But all went smoothly during takeoff, and then as one of the flight attendants was giving the safety presentation, a blond man dressed in black leather popped out of the first class section, grabbed her, and kissed her.

Part Three Li at Tao-Talk

Several people in coach lifted up their cell phones to record Nikki as he laid one on Myra, the flight attendant, ooh-ing and aah-ing as they did. Myra was torn, as she was supposed to rebuff any advances by the passengers, no matter how famous; but on the other hand, she had been a global fan of Nikki and the Zappers for years, using her bene of free flights to see them dozens of times. She even had a likeness of Nikki tattooed in her cleavage. Throwing caution to the wind, she kissed Nikki back and soon they, locked in an embrace, were stumbling towards the bathroom – where they would be the newest members of the Mile High Club.

As they often synched with each other over the years, Alistair and Alexander looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

“Well, I never!” huffed Alistair.

“Indeed!,” puffed Alexander.

“Let the shenanigans begin. Where are those sleepers you packed? Time to take a snooze until the show is over,” said Alistair.

Alexander reached for his carry-on, which was stuffed under his seat, and retrieved enough for both of them. They asked another attendant for a handful of the little booze bottles to wash them down with. Soon they were fast asleep, snoring to beat kingdom come.

Neither one knew how long they had slept, but both were awakened by the throbbing bassline of the latest Nikki and the Zappers tune, “Don’t Harsh My Buzz.” They were shocked to see….

Part Four Teleporting Weena;

…that the lights in the plane’s cabin had been turned off. Being that it was night time, they couldn’t see a thing in the dark. The bass guitar was still pounding out the beat so loud it shook their insides.

Suddenly an explosion of neon-like lights began flickering all around the plane’s interior, as the Zappers launched into their current number one song.  Passengers were crowding into the narrow aisle, and even just standing at their seats, dancing and singing along to the music.

The captain came on the loudspeakers: “Welcome to the party of the year…we present the Zappers for your inflight entertainment. Free drinks for everyone!

A big cheer rocked this unusual concert venue.

“Can you believe this?” Alistair asked as he busted a move right there in his seat.

Alexander looked at Alistair. They were grinning from ear to ear but didn’t roll their eyes at this exciting turn of events.

Cocktails and cups of beer were passed around, as the party continued through the night, 32,000 feet above the ground, but a sudden lurch of the plane made everyone gasp. The plane yawed to the left, then to the right. People screamed and tumbled into each other.

This is your captain…please everyone…sit down and fasten your seat belts…

***

Part Five – Sadje of Keep it Alive

……..we have a pick of air turbulence. It took repeated announcements from the caption to quieten down the passengers who were still hyped up from all the drinking and dancing. Eventually, everyone was seated, the belts fastened and a hush descended on the plane. Suddenly there was a jerk as the plane lost a lot of height very quickly. It was an air pocket that caused the loss in the plane altitude. There were quite a few screams and shrieks from many people.

The pilot came on air again.

I am sorry ladies and gentlemen we are in the middle of a storm right now. Please keep the seat belts on. I am afraid that we have lost power in one of our engines. I am trying to make an emergency landing………..

His announcement was cut abruptly and….

Part Six – Kristian’s Addition

…the oxygen masks dropped from their concealed compartments above the passengers.

Alistair and Alexander helped each other putting them on and then they squeezed hands.

The atmosphere had gone from one of enjoyment to panic. A few people had begun to get hysterical. Myra the Stewardess was trying to comfort one particularly distressed woman who couldn’t stop crying.

Then there was a loud bang and a hiss as the cabin filled with smoke. Alistair could just see Alexanders face through the haze. His eyes were scrunched tightly together and his grip on his hand was threatening to cut the blood supply from his fingers, but they were together and that was some comfort.

It was the impact of the plane hitting the water that sent luggage pouring out of overhead compartments and a few chairs broke loose, tumbling bodies around like they were dummies.

Myra lay at an impossible angle. Her legs bent backwards and her head twisted.

A figure lay face down in a black leather jacket and the strings of a broken guitar wrapped around his neck.

After the terrific noise of the impact, everything seemed deathly quiet. Alexander’s eyes opened, tears streaming down his face but he fixed Alistair with a desperate blue stare.

They had survived the crash but so many hadn’t.

A panicked voice suddenly came from over the tannoy system.

“This is the Navigator speaking. If there are any other survivors, please come to the front of the plane and make yourselves known.”

Together Alistair and Alexander got up from their chair and slowly made their way down the plane.

They were surprised to see…..

Part 7 – A Guy Called Bloke

cockpit-683529_960_720

………. that the cockpit was empty!

The navigator stood there, in a right mess, another steward was desperately trying to stem the blood flow from his left arm, well what was left of his left arm anyway! They could see by looking into the cockpit was not a good move – the Captain and the Co-pilot were missing. The navigator was mumbling about the fact that the two pilots had suddenly just disappeared into thin air and then all hell broke loose! That the aircraft lurched and then plummetted to the earth.

Alastair and Alex looked at each other in complete disbelief and utter astonishment. Behind them the screams of agony and anguish were filling the small space of the aisle .. and yet when they looked behind them, something was amiss, not quite right, it took them a few moments to comprehend that the loss was actually people. Before the crash, all the seats had been filled with passengers and yet now, if you included the dead, the dying, the subdued expressions of those in shock and the few others still, looking bewildered at them, they came to realise that, a good 50% of their part of the cabin was emptier than it had been?

“Well where, did they go?” Alex said to himself almost as much to the others?

“Which is what l have been trying to say!” mumbled the Navigator, “poof gone! Where who knows, Frank and Thomas were laughing and joking one minute and then l was disentangling myself from metal! Which is why my arm is not right. We didn’t hit the sea, we are not sinking which is good news. From what l could gather as l looked out of the windows as we were skewing across the surface, if anything we were skimming across a swamp!”

“Right!” Al said, “I think we should start to disembark, does this plane have one of those things that are like a Bouncy castle slide?”

“Yes of course.” Answered the Navigator, and with a small cursory move to the steward, he motioned towards the door. The steward after a bit of rough manoeuvring, managed to cast the door open and then aside and for the first time the four of them looked out into the world before them.

An overgrown jungled swampland greeted them, very mangrove looking Alex thought and said as much “Charming, just what we need a bloody jungle!”

“Right, well you must have a passenger list. I suggest we get everyone off the plane as best as we can, there must be other stewards throughout the aircraft? There must be first aid and medical equipment. We need to check the state of the craft itself to see if we are in any immediate danger of blowing up, and then , well then we will have to figure out where the bloody hell we are and what we do?” Alastair said officially.

Alex looked at his friend in confusion, “How do you know all of this?”

“Well l was huge fan of the disaster movies from the 70’s, l am just repeating what they said and it’s common sense surely?”

“Right, well l am very impressed Al, must be said”

“Thanks Alex, however now is not the time for praise, now is the time for action.”

At that moment in time, as the four looked out into the darkness of the surroundings they were now in, they heard something very heavy crashing through the undergrowth! If that wasn’t disturbing enough, the screech was!

“Oh my lord, what the hell is that?” The Navigator moaned.

Before any of them could answer, the undergrowth parted and crashing out towards them was ……..

And here’s my contribution:

an enormous metal beast; it had wheels at the rear but at the front were giant clawed arms which served to change the direction of the machine but also to clear the dense forestation. It halted before the terrified survivors, the massive throbbing engines creating an illusion of life; a black heart of block and pistons beating. In their bewildered state the passengers didn’t see an internal hatch opening, they saw a giant gaping maw that they were certain was going to swallow them whole.

The screaming began and quickly turned to mass hysteria as people fought each other in an effort to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the machine that had so terrified them. Alistair and Alex clung to each other; they too were afraid but their desire not to be separated in this awful moment overrode their natural flight response. Their breath came in short, sharp gasps and Alex could feel Alistair’s knees start to give way.

“Alistair!” he hissed “Come on, you can’t collapse on me now”

Alistair shook his head and tried to lock his knees, he couldn’t let Alex down, but he could still feel the violent trembling that coursed through his body; he clung tighter still and hid his face in Alex’s jacket. Alex’s eyes, meanwhile, were fixed on the hatch in the machine, it was now fully open and someone, or something, was emerging from it. The hairs on the back of his neck rose up and he was aware of being exposed; a quick glance around him confirmed that all the other passengers had fled into the forest. He and Alistair would, it seemed, face this thing alone.

“What do you want?” Even to his own ears, his voice was unsteady.  At the sound of his voice, Alistair turned his face away from Alex’s shoulder and looked at the emerging figure. He fought to maintain control of his bowels as it climbed down from the machine and slowly walked towards them; the last thing he heard before his terror overwhelmed him was the voice of the creature saying……………………………………

my contribution.

“Identify, immediately!” a voice boomed.

A blinding spotlight was suddenly trained on them. Unable to see and afraid to move, Alex and Alistair stood frozen, as if chained to the damp forest floor. The two men exchanged furtive glances and Alex nodded slightly to Alistair that he would answer. He put on a brave face, took a deep breath and said, “I am Alex. And this…”he motioned to his right, “is Alistair.”

“I am not interested in what you are called!” The voice was louder. Closer. “I am asking you what is your species!”

“What?” Alistair stammered. “What the hell is this?”

“Shut up, Alistair,”Alex said. “Let me answer.”

“We are…”, he paused as if he was unsure of his answer, “Human beings”.

Suddenly, the blinding light vanished. They struggled to focus as their eyes began to recover.

The figure was standing before them, a mere 5 feet away. The approach seemed implausible because they had heard no footsteps or any sounds that would betray movement of such a large body. It towered over them at a height of at least 8 feet. Glowing, reptilian eyes pierced the darkness, revealing a enormous, bulbous head perched upon a thin but sturdy frame, supported by strong haunches not unlike a T-Rex. Short but strong arms extended towards them as if to strike anytime. It appeared to be hovering an inch above the damp, mossy floor of the forest.

The two men were paralyzed with fear.

“Human beings”, the figure replied, the voice calm, even, but not at all reassuring to the terrified men. “What makes you think you are welcome here?”

Alex and Alistair turned to stare at each other, certain that their answer had better be a good one. Alex again took the reins.
“We didn’t have a choice. We landed here by accident.”

“Yes. We see that example of primitive technology lying in ruins.”

“Primitive technology?” Alistair blurted out. “That’s a state of the art airplane.”

Alex gave him a shot to the ribs as a reprimand and gave him a look that clearly said shut up.

“Human, to you it may be, as you say ‘state of the art’, but it is most primitive in comparison to our advanced technology.”

Alex, garnering courage asked, “You say ‘ours’. Who, if I may ask are you?”

“We are the rightful owners of this planet. We have been away.”

“How long ?”, asked Alex

“That is not important. What is important is why we are here. We are at the beginning of a rejuvenation process, one that wouldn’t be necessary without you ‘humans’. This was once a fertile, bright planet. Then, you ‘humans’ destroyed it. Over population, pollutants and the weapons used to fight useless wars, all because you can’t get along, have nearly destroyed it.”

The figure moved closer, the glow of its eyes intensified.

“You can’t be trusted to be on this land. It is the last refuge from your infestation.”

The two men backed away a few steps, cowering from the intimidating figure.

“Again”, Alex stammered, “It’s not like we had a choice. We crashed here by accident!”

Alistair, feeling brave, chimed in. “If you tell us where we are, we can try to use the radio on the plane. You know, to call for help. We’ll be out of here and you won’t see us again.”

The figure silently advanced towards them and stopped mere inches from the men, towering over them and said in a flat, mocking tone.

“It’s not a matter of where you are human, it is a matter of when you are…”

I pass the baton to my buddy Steve. The last time I did, he did not disappoint. Have at it, bud.

people watching

Hey there, I see you. Don’t think strangely of me if we make eye contact. Yes, I know it’s Saturday night and I am indeed in a booth alone. I’m not staring at you, I promise. I’m just people watching. It’s what I do. For a brief moment in time, you won’t even notice, I will simply absorb, perhaps steal a tiny portion of this moment from you. If you let me do my thing, I will move on to someone else in their room and I will steal moments from them.

It’s just one dinner, one cocktail or appetizer on one day of your life. It’s just one moment. But to me it’s more, I’m incredibly invested in it. You may not think of it as I do, but once this moment is gone all you will have is a memory. You may underestimate how precious that memory will be, but I don’t. See, I am not old enough to say that I will never be happy again, but I know that I am old enough that certain moments are forever past, others beyond my reach.  Vicariously is the only way I will experience them again.

images (38)

I see you, sir. The young guy with the pretty wife and 2 young children. You are having dinner. Your daughter is trying to get your attention for approval on the puzzle she just completed on her placemat. You’re on your phone. I would trade a thousand tomorrows to have one like you are having. Moments when I was a giant to them and my approval was everything. What you don’t know is a lot of the time I also was too wrapped up in what I was doing to pay attention to them. I want them back, all of them. Please, put the phone down. The text can wait. That disappointed look on her face…you can change that. If you don’t appreciate this moment, may I?

download (37)
images (39)

I turn my attention to the young couple in the corner booth, barely able to keep their hands off of each other. Don’t mind me for staring, I’m not a creep I swear. It’s just that I can’t get over the way you are looking at each other. As if one would simply melt if the other left the table. It must be wonderful to be in love…would you tell me about it? You see, I don’t think that I have ever looked into someone’s eyes as you two are now. I want to but I doubt it now. I think we skipped that part and went right to bitterness and resentment. If it pleases you, could you do better than we did? Regardless, can I just enjoy yours for a while?

I catch the eye of Mr. Successful businessman at the bar. We nod and we then both look away. I see your $1000.00 suit, your Presidential Rolex and the drink that was poured from the top shelf. You clearly are doing great for yourself. Perhaps you are celebrating a promotion, a big close or merger. To your credit, you look like a guy with it all together. I’m happy for you. I struggled with money and success for my whole career. When I finally got close to wearing a smile like yours, I had to stop working. I hope you have something else in your life that makes you happy besides money. She’s a cruel mistress. But still, cheers. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.

I take a sip of my drink and I zoom in on the happy couple at the other end of the bar. Older, smiling, looking at each other fondly as they speak. You are a couple that has been together for a long time. Your love has stood the test of time. Maybe you had it easy, but maybe you struggled with the marriage-crushing burdens of children, finances and work. If you did or didn’t you look like you made it through. I always wanted a love like yours. I hoped to someday say, in a crowded banquet hall, the words “I have been married to this beautiful woman, my best friend for 50 years” and soak in the applause.  It just didn’t work out that way. I am about to be, on Monday, the first member of my family ever to get divorced. It’s too late for me, but I’m really happy for you. If you look my way I’m not staring, I’m simply thinking about my three favorite things…

Could’ve
Should’ve
Would’ve

Who am I you ask? What am I doing here? I’m harmless I swear. You see, I am the petty thief of your moments. My satchel is full for now and I must go home.

a beautiful lake sunset

It was the twilight of a beautiful late Spring day. The sun was setting, the sky golden and the water still as glass. From the deck of the seasonal home, the chairs the two men were sitting in were mere silhouettes in a painting that could be found in any New England Art Gallery. The woman leaned on the rails of the deck and watched the men for a few moments, decided that all was well and went inside. It looks like their ‘little talk’ is going well, she mused to herself. The chairs were placed in the water, several feet off of the shore just before it dropped off. Small waves gently lapped at their feet. The older man splashed his bare feet in the cool water. He stared at his pale legs, revealed by his rolled pant legs and laughed to himself.
“Can’t wait to get some sun on these legs. Been a long winter.”
The young man on his right nodded in agreement.
“Now where were we? Oh yes, respecting my daughter.” He paused and chewed on a unlit cigar and stared straight ahead.
“I had reservations about you. But my daughter asked me to give you a chance. She saw something in you. Me, I didn’t see it. But here’s the thing, son. It doesn’t matter if I see it. It’s up to me to support my daughter. So I just figured, and this is going to be blunt so I hope you’ll forgive me, but I figured she’d see what I saw eventually and dump you. With me so far?”
The younger man nodded in agreement.
“I taught my daughter, who you know means fucking everything to me, to not only insist on a man respecting her but to respect herself. Girls need to be tougher than boys and I raised her tough.” He paused to chew on his cigar, spitting a few scraps of wrapper. “And I told you when we met that you and I will get along just fine if you respect my little girl.”
The younger man on his right again nodded his head.
“Now, as a father that means that I have to stomach the idea of you sticking your tongue down her throat, and doing worse things than that, when my instincts are to wrap her in bubble wrap. To protect her from this world. Because my daughter will always, no matter how long I live, be my little girl. It’s a tough thing to let go of.”
He stopped to observe a mama duck and her ducklings paddle by them, unafraid of them despite their closeness.
“Then I saw the bruises on her arm.” He paused, clenching his fists until his knuckles were white. “She said you two were playing around, that I shouldn’t worry about it. But I knew she was lying to me. And that I cannot handle. So I pushed until she told me the truth. And you know what, I’m worried about it.”
He looked for the ducks. They had disappeared from sight on the twisted shoreline.
“I’m so worried in fact that I simply have to, I just can’t live with myself if I don’t, do something about it.” He leaned to his right, stared intently at the man and said, “You get that, right?”
The younger man frantically squirmed in his chair, rocking it back and forth.
The older man placed his unlit cigar on the wooden arm of his chair and stood up. He walked around and behind the other’s chair and made sure the ropes binding the hands together were secure. He went around to the front and checked the man’s bound feet to see they were secure as well.
He leaned in to the young man’s face, placed a 9mm against his temple and raised a finger to his own lips, shushing him. He then tore off the thick slab of duct tape that covered his mouth and stared into his eyes.
“Don’t speak. It’s waaaay too late for that. Just look at my eyes. This is the face of a father. A man that loves his child more than you will ever know. I tried to explain such a love to you but you didn’t get it. Maybe you thought I was joking.”
He walked to the rear of the young man’s chair.
“See, when I said ‘You and I would get along just fine’, that’s another way to say that ‘I won’t have to kill you’. But you hurt my daughter, and I really have no choice now, do I? After all, I am a man of my word.”
“Please don’t, please…I’ll do anything!” the young man pleaded.
The older man kicked the chair forward, plunging the young man face down into the water.
He sat in his chair, struck a wooden match and lit his cigar. He took a deep drag, marveled at what a beautiful night it really was. Despite the splashing sounds as the chair in the water rocked and thrashed frantically.
“How’d it go?”, his wife called from the deck.
“Good. Good talk” he loudly replied. “Be in in a minute.”

As soon as the bubbles stop, he grinned.

The dark secret

The old man sat across from the plump, middle aged woman at a table in the corner. The shop was bustling. The 6 tables were occupied with chatty locals and the line for coffee and the locally famous baked goods was out the door, the steady announcement of visitors via the bell over the door rose above the din.

The old man was staring at his coffee, intently stirring it as the woman enjoyed her coffee roll. She looked up, noticed his distracted behavior.“What’s the matter, Klaus?” she asked. “You’re here but you’re not.”“Anna” he sighed. “I have a heavy heart today. Ah, that’s not entirely true. I have a heavy heart every day but I’m afraid it’s come to a head.”
Anna pushed for clarification.
“Care to share?”
“Anna, we’re friends aren’t we?”
“I suppose so. We meet here for coffee once a week. Now that I think about it I don’t really know that much about you. You’re from Germany. You’re a widower. You’ve been in town for a long time. You owned a clock repair shop.”
“You know enough about me then.” Klaus told her.
“Most of that I got from the Senior Center that reached out to me to be your coffee buddy. When we talk here we mostly make small talk.”
“Anna”, he reached across the table and grasped her hand. “Would you come to my house tomorrow afternoon? I know it’s an extra day, not on the schedule but I want to ask something of you and I don’t want to do it here.”
Anna pulled out her smartphone, pulled up her calendar and studied it for a moment.
“I think I can do that. How’s 2 sound?”
“That sounds wonderful” he said. “I will take my leave now and I look forward to seeing you then.” He took his faded leather wallet out of his breast pocket, dropped a few bills on the table and slowly stood up. She watched him intently as he made his way out of the door, parting the crowd like the Red Sea and onto the sidewalk.
She turned her attention to the remainder of her coffee roll and thought about what the old man who she volunteered with could possibly have to ask of her.

The next day, Anna Feinberg stepped onto the walkway of the quaint Emerald Lane residence of Klaus Schmidt. Neat flower beds flanked the walkway. The freshly painted porch was adorned with hanging plants in full bloom. She marveled at how a man of Klaus’s age could maintain his house so meticulously.

She rang the bell. Shortly, Klaus appeared at the door. She noticed he was without his walker. “Ahh, Anna. Thank you for keeping your word. Please, come in.” He gestured her inside.
The interior of the home was as meticulous as the exterior. There was no clutter, paintings adorned the walls, the wood floors gleamed as if recently treated. She followed him into the kitchen.
A pot of tea, a bowl of sugar and a small carafe of milk and 2 cups awaited them at the table.
Klaus invited her to sit down. She patiently waited for him to ease himself into his chair, she then sat.
“Anna” He slowly began. “There is so much you, anyone for that matter, don’t know about me and as a friend I feel that I should unburden myself.”
“Klaus”, she interrupted,”with all due respect, we’re not that close. Surely you have someone closer you want to share this with?”
“Anna, I’m afraid that close or not, you are all that I have. Now if I may continue?”
She nodded in agreement.
“Anna, I’ve done some terrible things. Things that I am so very ashamed of. I have haunting memories that I just can’t escape them.”
“Klaus”, Anna interjected. “We all have done things that we are ashamed of.”
“My dear, I’m afraid my deeds fall under a whole new category other than ‘things that we are ashamed of.”
“I’ m listening.”
“Anna”, he paused. He took his glasses off and put them on the table in front of him. He rubbed his eyes and looked down into his lap for a moment. “What if I told you I don’t want to live any longer?”
“I don’t have an answer for that. Again, I’m not sure I’m the right person for this conversation.”
“You’re the perfect person. The only person. Your name is Feinberg, yes?”
Puzzled, Anna replied “Yes.”
“You are Jewish, am I correct?” he queried.
“I’m not sure where we’re going with this but I’m getting a bit uncomfortable here.”
“Alas, I’m going to make it a bit more so.” He reached into the pocket of his robe and placed a WW2 era Luger pistol on the table in front of him.
“Anna, I want you to kill me.” He paused to let his words sink in.

To be continued…

The endless darkness

I have been challenged by the very talented Haunted Wordsmith to again take part in the Tell the Story Challenge. It’s quite simple, I was given an image and tasked with telling a story. I initially was going to decline but the picture was so challenging I forced myself to rise to the challenge. Before you read, check out the Wordsmith’s blog. You won’t be disappointed.

The Captain stood at the bow and stared at the gray horizon. In all directions, as far his eyes could strain it was storm clouds and turbulent seas. He steadied himself against the battering waves, the salt spray burned his tired eyes.

Captain Hillenbrand was alone on the deck. His weary crew was bedded down for the night. What was left of his crew, that is. Rocked by a mysterious disease, his men were dropping fast and those that remained were cowering in their quarters for fear of contracting it. It’s better, he thought, that they not see the worried, furrowed brow that had replaced his legendary, confident stare. They need to see a leader, not just another scared and vulnerable man.

A practical man, raised at sea by a legendary seaman of Her Majesties Royal Navy, he led with a superb blend of instinct and reliance upon the proven tools of the sailor. He always knew what to do.

Until now.

He was surrounded by the unknown. A week before, all of the ship’s navigational tools inexplicably stopped working. The dial of the compass spun like a child’s toy. The barometer failed to budge in any way. He strained for an explanation, but there wasn’t one. Stranger than the failure of the instruments was the lack of daylight. It had been dark for 7 days.

It had all occurred at the same time. Right after…he tried to chase it out of his mind. The recollection surged through him and he resigned himself to allow for the possibility that his deeds had finally come to haunt him. Right after they came upon the stranded ship flying the African flag, drifting helplessly.

The Exodus was a merchant vessel. Captain Nathan Hillenbrand had lost his commission after his father had retired in disgrace. The Royal Navy felt that the name Hillenbrand would carry a negative connotation and politely and expediently forced him out of the Navy. Unable to find other work, Nathan Hillenbrand had been forced to Captain the Exodus. It was fairly easy work, being free of the regimen of military service he was able to lead his crew as he saw fit. The challenge,of course, was that his crew was also not under the regimen of military service and he was tasked with leading a crew of characters, some unsavory, and that was a daily challenge.

The Exodus, weighed down with a cargo of dry goods was headed towards the Philippines on a routine trade mission. Six days into their journey they found that their food and water supply was contaminated. Rats had not been detected during loading and had sufficiently bitten into and defecated onto enough of their food supply to render it inedible. Rum was the only consumable product on the ship. Captain Hillenbrand had done his best to maintain order, he assured his crew that with smooth seas they would make their destination before starvation set in.

It was soon after that they encountered the stranded ship. Floating, it’s main mast broken, likely due to a storm, the craft was truly helpless. As the Exodus came into sight, the weary sailors waved frantically to them to assist. Captain Hillenbrand ordered a team to drop a rowboat and board the ship. He gave them specific instructions to assess how many were aboard. If it was a manageable amount, they were to signal him to send more boats to rescue them. It was also instructed of them to “appropriate” some supplies to get them through their current situation.

The crew boarded the ship and signaled, by way of hand signals that there were 35 men aboard. Too many to allow on the already overloaded Exodus. He signaled across the waves to them by drawing his hand under his throat and simulated slicing his own throat. This was the universal signal to abort.

What happened next would haunt the most hardened of sailors and men.

The crew leader, either misinterpreting, or more sinister, perverted the signal and began to attack the crew of the stricken craft. The others followed. The Captain stood helplessly as the men hacked the crew to death. Horrified, he watched the brutal display unfold before him. Blood mixed with the salt spray, bodies fell to the deck, those who were lucky lived long enough to bleat like sheep to the slaughter.

The screams, my god the screams.

When the crew completed their unsanctioned massacre, they grabbed a meager supply of food and loaded the dingy and paddled back to the Exodus. Hillenbrand, dazed and outraged, met the returning men with a team of sailors armed with bayonets. Unable to find any other suitable option, he had them
summarily executed, their treasonous corpses tossed overboard.

After, he ordered his remaining crew to make do with the tragically obtained supplies and went to his cabin.

It wasn’t long after that it became dark. The sea kicked up. The clouds rolled in. The Exodus began its now endless spell of being tossed around by the angry waves. Then the instruments stopped working. The next morning, when he surveyed what should have been a horizon with at least a glimpse of sun…he saw nothing but darkness. It wasn’t just strange, it was foreboding.

More sinister than the darkness was the floating specter that appeared before him. Dancing on the waves, not possibly human and of this world, the skeletal face stared at him, through him and into his very soul. It haunted him. He ordered his crew to change direction at full sail. Still, there was the specter dancing in the waves, taunting him. In another change of direction, he saw it again. No matter what he tried, there it was.

Any experienced sailor will tell you, the sea is a mysterious mistress and can play games with the weary mind. Hillenbrand was beyond weary, but he knew what he saw before him. All of his rational instincts raging through him, he knew that he was dealing with something beyond the realm of the rational. It was Karma, it was payback for what he had allowed on his watch. It was his reckoning. It was the call of retribution. It was Death.

Clearly, there was no escaping it.

He heard a commotion below deck. He need not look, another, or a few more men had died. The remaining men were scared. They wanted answers. He had none, a mutiny was certainly imminent. They would come for him. If it came to that, he would let them. The next man who assumed the helm would not escape the same fate. They would all die in darkness.

As he stared into the endless, bland night he heard the screams of the helpless, slaughtered victims. The ones who had died under his watch. They danced around in his head, demanded to be heard. He couldn’t fight it, the cacophony overpowered him.

He raised his pistol to his temple, took a deep breath and one last look at his own personal hell and pulled the trigger.

As his body slumped to the deck of the cursed ship, he faintly heard the sinister, menacing laugh of the specter in the crashing waves before him.

The bad day…a Mike Valentine tale

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked. She had startled Mark Valentine. Despite the fact that a drink was all that he had wanted for the last 2 hours, he had been distracted by the Sox game on the corner TV.

“Good evening, Liz. What are the beer specials this evening?” God, how he hated to ask that question. The Crown Royal bottle on the top shelf was waving and calling his name but he was on a copper budget. His gold tastes would have to deal with it.

“Coors Light and Bud Light draft are $2.50 each.” She seemed to be on edge tonight, not as friendly as usual. He would know, he was as regular as Norm from Cheers.

“Bud Light, please.”

“You got it.”

Within seconds, a tall mug of cold, GMO infused, foamy piss water was in front of him accompanied by a basket of tortilla chips with Salsa. For anyone else, that’s another $2.50 but Liz always took care of him. He took a long sip of his beer and scanned the bar. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular. Maybe a new face or something to indulge in his favorite past-time. People watching. His scan was nearly complete as he turned his gaze back to the Sox game.

As he did so he inadvertently caught the gaze of the guy sitting beneath the TV. He was careful to not stare back but instead focused on the TV. He occasionally found himself darting his glance at the man and each time his gaze was met. This annoyed him. Why does every dickwad sitting under the TV think I’m looking at them? Where the fuck else am I supposed to look?  He glanced over again and the fellow looked particularly hostile. Mike was not in the mood for a confrontation, it was the very last thing he wanted after today. So, he chose to look straight ahead at the mirror behind the bottle rack. As cranky and depressed as he was when he came in, it was now worse. He was disgusted by the round face and bloodshot eyes that stared back at him. Relax, Mike. The mirror adds 15 pounds.
Yeah, but how many mirrors am I in right now?

He decided that he had to do what he hated most, play with his phone like “one of those” people. Mike Valentine was opinionated and old-fashioned and the phone thing conflicted him. He needed it and hated it at the same time. He saw the cell phone as an Orwellian nightmare, herefused to be glued to it and he an had open disdain for those who were. But in this case, drinking alone at 3:45 on a Tuesday afternoon it really was no time to stand on principle. As he pulled the phone from his pocket he saw that he had missed 3 calls. 1 from his boss and 2 from home. He made a mental note to call his boss back. He chugged the remainder of his beer and motioned to Liz for another. She was there with a fresh one immediately.

“Nice hat.” Mike had forgotten that he was wearing his Red Sox Scally cap. He loved the hat and got a lot of feedback whenever he wore it.

“Thanks Liz. I like it a lot.”

“Get it at Fenway?” she asked.

“Yup, thieving bastards got me good on it.” He had, on a whim gone into the gift shop at Fenway Park, home of his beloved Red Sox while on business in Boston looking for that very hat and paid stupid money for it.

“It looks good on you. It’s a keeper.” She smiled at Mike, there was a sadness behind it. As she walked away she said “My brother would love it.”

The comment seemed odd to Mike, almost as if forced. Less conversational and with intention. Whatever. Remembering that he had to return his boss’s call he pushed his stool back and stepped outside. He walked to the end of the concrete walkway to escape any noise from the patrons entering and leaving. Mike knew from experience that this was the best spot to call his boss and lie to him. The nature of the call would dictate how big the lie will be. Mike hated this part, and it was of no comfort that he had done it a lot lately.

Mike Valentine was in a rut at work. His customers weren’t busy, so consequently his portfolio was suffering. His competition was killing him and Mike was worn down by the constant “No’s” from his customers by about noon each day. Deep down he knew that he was a great salesman. But he had lost faith in his product, his managers and most important, in himself. He hated going to work lately. He hated going home also. Especially when the money wasn’t coming in. Every day that he could knock off early he did. Without permission, of course, which is why he was dreading making the call. If asked where he was, what would he say?  He wasn’t where he was supposed to be so whatever he said it will be a  lie, a lousy fucking lie that he thought he was above. He took a deep breath and dialed his boss.

to be continued…

The Lake walk…A Mike Valentine tale

Mike Valentine looked at the time display on his car radio. 7:15. Realizing that it will be dark soon, he did some quick math in his head and figured he had an hour before the mosquitoes starting eating him alive and his phone blows up from the wife wondering where he was. Despite the beautiful evening he was observing through his windshield, he didn’t want to get out of the car. He also didn’t want to go home. He wasn’t ready for that shit yet.

You took the time to change at the office, dickhead, go for the walk already, he scolded himself.

He opened the door and stepped into an onslaught of late afternoon humidity. Before closing the car door he made sure he had all of the essentials for his walk. Car key removed from ring and tied into shoelace. Check. Bottle of water. Check. He weighed the pros and cons of leaving his iPhone in the car or carry it for the entire walk. If he left it and she called he’d never hear the end of it. If she calls during the walk he may not answer it. He arrived at the conclusion that he was screwed either way so he tossed it on his seat and covered it with his jacket. He was about to lock the door when he opened it again and grabbed the phone. He cursed his addiction to the stupid thing as he slipped it into his back pocket.

Mike walked over to the big oak that currently shaded his 2008 Honda Accord with 200k on it from the late afternoon sun. He leaned against the mighty tree and attempted to stretch. His legs, stiff from sitting at a desk all day, were having none of it. Sadly, compared to his neck, the legs were nothing. Just an hour ago, in the course of a huge blowout with his boss, his head almost flew off of that very neck so the tension was of no surprise. Mike looked at his watch and chose to skip his usual stretching routine and just walk the lake.

“The lake” was a local treasure. Smack dab in the middle of an upper-middle class town full of old money and new construction, the lake was a favorite walking spot for people from surrounding towns. With its paved sidewalks, generous walking and bike lanes and magnificent view it was a bustling attraction for walkers, runners and bikers. Mike frequently walked the lake for all of those reasons, for a bit of after work exercise/stress relief, and of course for the added bonus of a plethora of young hotties and soccer moms coming and going in tight shorts and God’s greatest gift to mankind, the yoga pants. Tonight, Mike didn’t care about any of the scenery, he was in a foul mood and was walking because it was a healthier alternative to going to the local Chili’s and drinking cheap beer and eating tortilla chips all night.

As Mike walked the long parking lot and merged his tired body into the flow of traffic, as it were, he fought the initial tightness in his calves. Regretting not stretching more, he was comfortable that it would go away soon. As he reached the first long straight section, he realized that the tightness in his legs had subsided, his breathing was heavy and he welcomed the light breeze cooling his sweaty brow. He was getting into a rhythm. The lake is 3.5 miles around, it should take a total of 45 minutes and he felt on schedule.

As he settled into his rhythm he finally allowed the day’s events to freely bang around in his head. As soon as he did, the anger consumed him again. Being a self-aware man, Mike knew to keep his facial expressions in check lest he make oncoming walkers think he is a crazy fuck who is off of his meds. It was a difficult task, he was as mad as he could ever remember. He took several deep breaths and tried to sort his thoughts. Lets see, he recalled, I woke up to hear about how I’m not making enough money. When I told her to leave me alone, that she’s not helping, she called me a useless piece of shit. I told her to fuck off in front of the kids and felt like an ass all morning. I went to work mad, always a recipe for success, and my boss called me on my attitude. I ignored him and he let it go until 5 minutes before quitting time and then started the worse argument I’ve ever had with him or anyone else.

That’s not the worse part, a little voice in his head spoke up, you’re probably out of a job. You told him to go fuck himself on the way out the door, remember?

Mike Valentine remembered. He replayed the minutes of the argument in his head for what seemed like forever, trying to make sense, entertaining things he should have said and regretting some of the ones he did. After what seemed like an eternity of thinking and overthinking, he stopped walking, bent over and stared at the ground and physically shook his head as would a dog after coming in out of the rain.

“Enough” he said aloud to the inattentive ground. “I can’t live like this anymore. This is not the life I thought I would live. Something’s gotta give.”

The ground, as could be expected, had no response to his desperate plea.

To be continued…