Echo, Part 22

Henry held Ana in his arms and was glad that she drifted off to sleep rather quickly.  She needed her rest.  Growing a child was hard work.  He, however, found it rather difficult to fall asleep.  His thoughts kept drifting to the car across the street and, his eyes kept opening and turning towards the window.  In the worst moments of the long night, his imagination had federal agents bursting through the glass, the shards scattering across the room and ripping the sheets on the bed.  He knew that wasn’t likely.  As he and Ana had discussed, if whoever was out there had wanted Henry and Ana in custody it would have been a simple thing.  The subterfuge meant they were waiting for something.

Ana stirred next to him and Henry turned towards her. Her breathing was slow and regular, her chest rising and falling in a rhythmic pattern that was enchanting.  He blinked several times as his eyelids grew heavier and when he opened his eyes again sunlight was peeking through the blinds to splash in long rectangles on the far wall of the room.  Ana still slept and Henry carefully got up to not disturb her.  Stepping over to the window he peered through the blinds to see that the car had left at some point in the night.  Or, at least, it wasn’t parked in the same spot.

Without disturbing the blinds, Henry twisted his head to look up and down the street as far as he could.  The car was nowhere to be seen.  That didn’t mean it wasn’t out there still.  That didn’t mean it hadn’t been relieved by a different crew in a different car.  That didn’t mean that if they left the house during the day they would be followed wherever they went.  The car wasn’t where it had been.  That’s all he really knew for sure.

He went through the house, checking doors and windows to make sure they were still closed and locked.  It wasn’t too far off from his normal routine, if anyone happened to be watching or listening to his movements.  He checked the doors and windows every day.  Just because they’d had two years of quiet didn’t mean everything was as it seemed.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary and the remaining windows that looked out on the street showed no sign of the car or any other cars that looked out of place.  Not many people parked on the street on his block so he thought he’d recognize if any weren’t the normal ones.  He didn’t want to be overly confident about it but he was fairly certain he did recognize the few cars out there.

He made his way into the kitchen, placed a cast iron skillet on the range and lit a fire under it to let it warm up while he pulled food from the fridge for an omelet.  Ana wondered in shortly thereafter and got the coffee started.  They worked in silence, enjoying the quiet and the company without having to disturb either with words.  While coffee wasn’t something Ana drank much of anymore, she took great pleasure in making it each morning.  She loved the smell to start each day.

When they sat down to their plates of food, Ana asked, “How’s the weather today?”

Henry smirked.  “Sunny for the moment.  Haven’t heard the forecast for the day so I’m not sure what it’s going to look like later.”

“Got a busy day at work?”

“Yeah, couple meetings I’m presenting in and a few projects I need to put some time in.  I could meet for lunch, though, if you felt like getting out later.”

“That sounds good.”

Henry was impressed with their own cleverness.  The weather question had actually been about the situation out front, of course, and everything after that had been setting up a way to meet outside later so they could talk about anything that’d seen that morning.  They hadn’t planned the conversation, it had just happened.  Perhaps those first days when they’d been on the run had left more of a lasting impact on how they thought and reacted to things than they’d known.

Another comfortable silence settled in while they finished their breakfast and sipped on coffee.  Henry read the newspaper and Ana was halfway into a thriller she’d read several times before.  Once he’d finished the article he’d been reading, he got up, collected their dishes, kissed the top of her head, put the dishes in the sink and went to get ready for work.

Ana was still at the table buried in her book when he was ready to go.  “Text me later if you want to do lunch.”

Without looking up she said, “Good plan.”

He smirked again and went out the front door.  He tried to scan the street without breaking stride, without making it obvious that he was looking around more than he might on a normal day.  He wasn’t sure how well he did.  It felt awkward and he eventually stopped looking around to just focus on getting to his car.  As far as he knew, it was just a normal day.

The morning passed quickly.  The work helped him push aside his worries for a few hours.  Then the call came in from the front security desk that Ana was there and he locked his computer to take his wife out to lunch.  She didn’t normally meet him at the office when they dined together but it made sense that she would today.  They could walk down the block to the slew of restaurants there.  The walk would give them time to talk without having to worry about a car being bugged.  And since they hadn’t talked about where they would eat, it was unlikely a team could have been put in place to monitor them.  They would still have to be mindful, though, because if they weren’t being watched their conversation could easily be picked up.

Ana picked a small Italian restaurant they hadn’t eaten in before and they got a table away from the windows and doors, in a dark corner where they could see the rest of the dining area and watch as people came in.  They settled in and ordered two items off the lunch special, a plate of gnocchi and a large piece of vegetarian lasagna.  The pictures on the menu made both look very appetizing.

For a few moments they chatted about the day so far, what they had done, the random things they had heard and seen, all the normal gossip of a few hours spent apart.  Then, after their water glasses had been topped off, Ana leaned across the table and whispered, “Did you see anything else this morning?”

Henry shook his head.

Ana pressed on, “And any thoughts about what we should do next?”

Again Henry shook his head.  He frowned, opened his mouth, shut his mouth, and frowned again.  He had no idea what they should do.  He didn’t even have half-ideas.  The few thoughts bouncing around the back of his mind were barely more than whispers of their own.  He couldn’t hear them well enough to give them voice.

“I had a thought,” Ana said, leaning even closer to Henry as if she was going to peck him on the cheek.

“What was that?”

Before she could answer, two men wearing dark suits walked into the restaurant.  Despite the low-light, neither took off their sunglasses.  Henry and Ana watched from the corners of their eyes as the two took a table nearby.  A wire dangled behind the left ear of both men.  The men appeared to be looking at the menu but neither did more than hold the open binder in front of them.

Ana turned her attention back to Henry.  Fear flared in her eyes.

Nano Poblano Blog Hop Story 2015

Thank you Jackie for including me in the blog hop shenanigans for this year.  I’m not sure if I’ve participated before…  I know I’ve done stories like this, blog hopping goodness, but I’m not sure if it was in November or as part of the Nano Poblano festivities.  Anyway, thanks for passing the story to me.  And, Fishy, what a wonderful way to start it.  I can’t wait to see where it ends up.

The rules are:

Nano Poblano Blog Hop Basics:

  1. Wait until you are tagged, then add a new post on your blog with these rules, the story so far, and who’s been tagged.
  2. Title and tag the post as Nano Poblano Blog Hop Story 2015.
  3. Add at least one sentence to the story.
  4. Pick another Pepper from the blogroll to tag (preferably one who hasn’t already been tagged).
  5. Add a link to your chosen Pepper’s about page (so they get a notification that they’ve been tagged) to the tagged list below.
  6. Pass the story along within two days of getting tagged.

Here is the story so far, with my addition in blue at the end.

nanopoblanohop

Eli stumbled into the compartment, flush and out of breath, and took the only available seat next to an old woman and a child. After months of planning, he suddenly had a bad feeling about this and stood right back up again, but at the same time, the train started moving.

There was no going back. As if to accentuate the point, the jerk of the train starting thrust Eli into his seat. Was he doing the right thing? Was he doing the wrong thing for the right reasons? Eli didn’t really know. What he did know was that the old lady had fake teeth that hadn’t been cleaned in a while, and the child reminded him of all the scary movies he’d seen about children. But that was besides the point. Eli was on a mission. Kind of.

He cringed, wishing he had planned this trip differently. The train ride lasted a full hour, plenty of time for things to go wrong when split-second timing was needed.

A droplet of sweat beaded at the end of Eli’s reddened face as he tried to catch his breath. Luckily, the old woman seemed to be busy telling the child a long and rambling fairy story. She hadn’t even noticed her fellow passenger.

Eli meant to keep it that way.

The child Eli had noticed was Rory, who was on a “real-life Thomas the Train trip” with his Gramma. Eli was right to note that Rory looked a little scary. The poor child did look a lot like Chucky from the classic horror movie Child’s Play…but then maybe that could be said of any three-year-old with red hair and freckles.

Rory, normally the sweetest of all kids despite his devilish appearance, loved his Gramma. Today though, her lack of a smart phone and insistence that “banana you glad” was the punchline to that knock-knock joke about fruit didn’t play well with his preschool-aged attention span. Especially on this long trip. Instead, he turned his attention elsewhere…

“GRAMMA, WHO’S DAT MAN?” Rory exclaimed, using his “outside voice”, pointing directly at Eli.

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THAT MAN RIGHT THERE GRAMMA! SEE? SEE THAT MAN?!
DAT MAN DARE, GRAMMA! SEE? SEE DAT MAN?!

That man was the conductor of the train and he had an announcement to make.  The passengers gave him the solemnity and respect fairly due to any person wearing such an official uniform.

He coughed sternly and spoke rapidly:  “There has been a minor delay and we’re going to disembark a little early while necessary repairs are made.  We apologize for the inconvenience.  Accommodations have been made for all passengers in the nearest town.  We think you’ll find the quaint, quiet rhythm of Bubbleville to be your liking.  The town is rich with, well– let’s call it history.”

Eli jumped when the conductor started to speak right behind him. At first he thought the kid had been pointing at him, which made him sweat, but the kid instead had pointed at the conductor.

The passengers started to leave the train, Eli followed reluctantly. He had no choice. He had heard of Bubbleville and its ‘rich history’. It was supposedly haunted with the ghosts of its founder Mr. Bubbles, a mean and miserly man and some of the people Mr. Bubbles had done wrong. Eli wondered if the legend was true. He hoped not. What he needed was a new plan, as his was not panning out.

Eli followed the rest of the passengers into the only hotel in Bubbleville. A dark, brooding place that looked more suited for nightmares than restful slumber.

A giant chandelier crashed into a thousand tiny pieces, sparkling with fire and mischief, and Eli, along with his fellow travelers, jumped and cried out in fear.  It hadn’t landed on any one but had come close to squishing the little boy he had shared train compartments with.  The child, for his part, had weathered the proximity of the disaster better than the rest.

Laughing, a rotund man dressed in a too-tight suit came forward from an alcove behind the reception desk.  “Forgive our little pranks.  Our guests, you see, often come with such trepidation that Mr. Bubbles is haunting around that we decided to play into their fears a bit.  Just a bit of fun.  See, look, feel, your tension is already easing, and now you’ll be able to relax more thoroughly than you would have otherwise.”

Eli was not more relaxed.  He was, however, considering all of his potential exits from Bubbleville that might afford him the opportunity to play a trick on the manager before making his full departure.  A rueful smile played across his face as he was shown to his room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The contributors so far:

Fish of Gold
A Disquieted Mind
SVM & TB Stories
Excerpts From Nonexistent Books
NotAPunkRocker
Rarasaur
Jackie
And now me!

Jessie, if you would do us the honor by adding to the story and then passing it along…

The Blogging Alliance of the Damned: A Short Story Challenge

The Alliance of the Damned is back, and this time we’ve got a bunch of flash fiction for you to enjoy. Pop on over and see what each of the members did with their 200 words. You won’t be disappointed.

No Hands

BAOTD

The Blogging Alliance of the Damned is back. And we’re’ ready for action.

Some very short action. Like, 200 word short-story short action.

The challenge for this week’s Alliance post was for the members to write a 200 word short-story. But, the story was supposed to be an exciting, anxiety-producing, ball-busting tale, filled with cliff-hangers and things resembling high-speed car chases.

Ok, so maybe the stories didn’t have to have that stuff exactly, but the aim of the game was to create an engaging story in 200 words or less.

A failure to comply with the word count meant certain death at the hands of the hell-demon, Gorlak. Don’t worry, the members were warned.

But, I have faith in my Alliance pals. I think we’re up for the challenge.

Don’t believe me? Don’t think we can do it? Well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. Check out these fantastic…

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Guest Blogger: Matt Blashill

I shared a suspenseful short story over on Writings of a Mrs. today. Go check it out!

Writings of a Mrs

I would like to introduce those of you that have not had the pleasure of reading Matt’s work, to Matt Blashil of the blog https://thematticuskingdom.wordpress.com I have been a fan of Matts writing for quite a few months now.  I’m honored that he shared this post a short story with me to share on my blog.  It is engaging, descriptive and full of suspense.  We could all learn a thing or two by reading Matts writing not to mention his awesome poetry…

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Ξ

As an avid backpacker and camper, normally spending about two weeks a year “lost” in the backcountry away from the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, out of cell range, I’ve often pondered how terrifying it would be to encounter something sinister when there was no one to call for help and no shelter to speak of.  Tapping into those thoughts, I put together this short…

View original post 551 more words

haunting

The house at the end up his street stood vacant and condemned for as long as he could remember.  The neighbors had tried to keep it nice, mowing the lawns, replacing broken windows, and painting over graffiti, until they felt the pinch of the times and left.  One managed to get a short sale done before leaving and the other was forced out by the Sheriff several months after being foreclosed upon.  Since then, while the banks owning the deeds to the neighboring homes did some minimal wrk to keep them looking nice, the one between them, the one at the very center of the cul-de-sac, had very quickly descended into a state of disrepair.

None of the remaining home owners on the block were surprised when the authorities came out and nailed the “Condemned” and “Do Not Enter” signs about the windows and doors.  The white boards and brilliant red lettering stood out in sharp contrast for only a few months before they faded into the dingy gray and black background that had swallowed the rest of the house.  Everyone knew the signs were still there but you couldn’t see them anymore when you hurriedly swept your gaze across its frontage.  The weeds had overtaken the lawn, gone to flower, and died off so many times that the front yard had turned into a miniature tangled forest.

As the eldest of four siblings, it had been Colin’s job to ensure that his younger brother (Arnie) and sisters (Beth and Ruth) knew all the terrible stories concerning the abandoned house.  Some of the stories he passed on he had heard from other kids on the block and some were bits of imagination he had crafted just to torture them with.  It was his duty, his responsibility, to scare them into staying far, far, away.  And, if he got a little enjoyment out of seeing them wide-eyed in terror, what of it?  Wasn’t that also part of being the first-born?

The stories became local legends. The adults had even picked them up and passed them along at their own local gatherings.  As the children would meet up, on their bikes and boards on the corner under the grand elm that guarded the entrance to their cul-de-sac to swap stories, baseball cards, comic books, and jokes, so too would the adults meet up in the evenings in this house or that to do their own swapping over a glass of wine and a fine cheese plate.

However, while the adults talked of figuring out a way to get it torn down by the city or pooling some resources to work on restoring it themselves, the children eventually got around to daring one another to breach the wrought-iron gate, march up to the front door, and knock three times to see who, or what, was still inside.  It took several years for that dare to finally get accomplished, but Jake, two doors down and a year younger, had risen to the challenge.

Colin, not one to be outdone by someone younger than him, and not wanting his image of toughest kid on the street to be tarnished, let alone to think that Arnie, Ruth and Beth could look up to someone other than him, decided on a course of action.  He would not only prove his bravery, regain his crown as toughest kid, but he would also make it impossible for anyone to ever top him again.

With a bag packed, and a note left for his parents that he was spending the night down the block at Jake’s house, he walked up the street towards the decaying building.  The graffiti had returned shortly after the neighbors had moved out but it, like the signs added by the city, had faded into the building.  Almost all of the windows had been smashed by a rock or a missile fired from a slingshot or pellet gun.  Only two remained intact, one on either side of the front door.  They looked like eyes watching him as he steadily approached the gate.

His feet wanted to stop his progress but he couldn’t let any fear show.  He tried to convince himself that he didn’t believe any of the ghost stories he had told about the place.  He knew he had made up half of them anyway.  But, he had told them all some many times he had grown to believe them too.  He was worried that he spoken them into being.

Enough of his mind didn’t believe that was possible to give him the will to keep walking towards the place, the house of his brother and sisters’ nightmares, the vacant home that haunted their street.  His will was strong enough to carry him all the way to the black gate.

The roof was missing shingles in places.  The yard was a mess.  There were visible cracks across the crumbling walls.  The whole thing seemed to lean towards the front.  Then he saw movement behind one of the broken windows upstairs.  The fluttering of a drape caught his eye and he snapped his view quickly up to it.  His knees nearly buckled when he realized there was no drape hanging behind the cracked and shattered glass.

A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that every kid on the block was either in front of their homes or standing behind a front window.  He could see his little brother, Arnie, clutching his blanket with one hand, and clinging to the hem of Ruth’s dress with the other.

He squeezed through the iron bars of the gate and waded through the sea of dead weeds.  He reached the door faster than he was happy about, turned the knob (and cringed internally) when it allowed him to open the door and swing it inward.  He felt, more than heard, the collective intake of breath from everyone watching his progress.  He didn’t dare turn around and see them again.

Colin stepped across the threshold and the door closed behind him.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Word Count: 1,000

Written in response to “Open Ended” – this week’s Flash Fiction Friday writing challenge.

You’ve still got some time left to submit something of your own.  All you have to do is create a tense scene with an open ending that leaves us wanting to know what happens next.