Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.
There is about a month remaining until the contest deadline. That month will fly by! Be sure to finish your stories and submit them. This might be a good time to remind everybody of the prizes…
- 3rd place: 1 year paid WF membership
- 2nd place: same as 3rd place, PLUS a one year gift subscription to the winner’s choice of either Writer’s Digest or Poets & Writers magazine
- 1st place: same as 2nd place, PLUS Writers Forum Membership Director Aaron Steinmetz’s help in e-publishing the winner’s book
- If the winner has a full length novel (or novella if they’d like) he can take them all the way from Word Document to printed copy (similar to what he did with River’s Edge) and also produce a Kindle version. The winner can also do this with short stories. Aaron will set them up with an account and the winner will have full access to it to create either hard copies or Kindle versions or both.
- Aaron does not edit manuscripts. Winner is responsible for all pre-publication editing.
Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.
There is still plenty of time for Writers Forum members to submit your own short stories. The deadline is September 15, 2020. All submissions will be posted to the website and the Facebook page, and will also be considered submissions to the Writers Forum anthology, River’s Edge, to be published at the end of the year.
A Tale From The Last 100 Years On Earth
Miami Florida 2050:
It was a beautiful gated beach front property just inside the city limits of Miami, a short distance north of the unincorporated beach town of Coconut Grove. Four distinctive tall royal palm trees grew in front of the house just behind the eight-foot ornate wrought iron fence that stretched across the front of the property and down the sides toward the beach. The palms suffered from lack of care and needed a good frond trimming. It was a late twentieth-century Miami vintage home stretching wide across the front giving it a breezy Mediterranean feel.
Sol could only imagine what the rear of the house looked like, he’d always wondered if it had a pool. He drove by the front gate almost every day on his way up to play pinochle with his buddies at the Jewish Senior Center. Rather than taking the Dixie Highway, which was a shorter route, he took Bayshore which passed by the front gate and the driveway that curved around the side of the house. No ugly garage doors on the front of this baby he often thought.
He and Rebecca had lived in the Flamingo apartments on Brand Avenue for over twenty years. When they first moved south from New York City the Flamingo was still considered one of the places to live close to the shore around Miami. If you were lucky enough to have a tenth-floor penthouse you could see across the bay to Key Biscayne. Long gone were those days, rows of high rises had popped up completely blocking any scenic views.
“Well, anyone moved in yet?” Rebecca said as Sol walked into the kitchen where she was chopping greens for their dinner salad.
“Nope, still looks the same,” Sol mumbled.
“Why do you obsess so over that place? You old buzzard…you know there’s no way we’ll ever be able to live there.”
Sol and Rebecca were both big city lifers. Rebecca was born in Los Angeles and was the sister of the renowned UCLA medical researcher Doctor Ben Jackson cowinner of a Nobel Prize in medicine. Doctor Jackson had won world acclaim two decades earlier along with his wife and Co-Nobel Laureate for their discovery of the treatment regime that had defeated the mutant sickle cell disease pandemic. The disease had ravaged the world for years reducing the population of the United States by over sixty percent.
Rebecca met Sol when she was a student at UCLA. He was a native New Yorker on sabbatical participating in a banking MBA program hosted by the UCLA Business School. They were married shortly after she graduated and spent the next thirty-eight years living, working and raising their children in New York City before retiring and moving to Florida. They got caught in the explosion of the sickle cell plague in New York five years before Sol retired. They lost two of their three children, the two youngest, a daughter only thirteen and son fifteen. Their oldest son survived. Sol worked as a commercial loan officer at New York Savings and Loan on William Street in the financial district. Every morning for thirty-five years he woke at half past five, dressed in a gray or blue suit white shirt and tie walked the six blocks from their Queens brownstone to the train station and rode into the city. After the death of their daughter and son he and Rebecca decided if they were going to mentally survive the grief and death surrounding them in New York they had to escape. They sold everything and moved to Miami. At the time the city of Miami was in the process of evacuating young families, as a result of the implementation of the federal government’s Phoenix Poison Air Pollution Plan. Miami had been declared a class “A” quarantined city…no children under eighteen allowed to reside inside the city limits. Homes and apartments were being vacated and abandoned everywhere in the city. Rental prices for some of the most exclusive condos and apartments in town were at an historic low.
This particular early Friday afternoon Sol was making his trip up Bayshore to the Jewish Center for his daily card game. Driving by the beach house he noticed what appeared to be a Miami City maintenance truck parked in the drive. Curious he drove by turned around and pulled into the drive behind the truck.
“Hey,” he said to the worker in the light blue work uniform. Miami City was embroidered over his left shirt pocket.
“Anything big going on? I knew the people that lived here.”
‘Must have been a long time ago, Bud, this house been vacant for years. We do a walk around at these properties to check for drugs and druggie vagrants. This one’s always been clean. Want to walk through with me? Might bring back some memories,” he said and smiled a crooked smile.
“Sure,” Sol said his heart jumping in his chest. The maintenance man pushed the front door open and they walked into the bright stone floored entry way. Light streamed in overhead through a huge weathered and partially moss-covered skylight.
“Kind of musty smelling huh? Needs to be aired out.” Sol nodded in agreement. They strolled the long connecting hallways. The maintenance man kicked the bedroom doors open as they went. Sol peaked over his shoulder as they walked along. When they came out into the expansive living room with at least forty feet of sliding glass doors and windows looking out onto the beach and ocean all Sol could do was flop down on the long sky-blue couch and mutter..whooee what a place.
“Nice view huh?” The maintenance man said, in passing, as he slid one of the patio doors open and stepped out on the flagstone patio. Sol followed close behind. No pool he thought to himself, beautiful beach though.
“If I had built this place,” the maintenance man said, “I would have put the pool and jacuzzi out here instead of inside of the house.”
“The pool’s in the house?” Sol said. “That’s amazing.”
“Yeah, but we don’t need to go back there, both empty…nothing to see. Come on let’s go bud, I have ten more on my list to look at today.”
“You do this every day?” Sol asked.
“Yep every day, me and two other guys, there’s hundreds and hundreds of empty houses, apartments, condos and office buildings we have to walk through. Always been interesting to me how many people and their entire families died from the disease leaving everything they owned unclaimed and in the case of real estate, like this house, where there were no buyers the city let them set vacant…many were demolished. A few of them have people living in them though.”
“Really, how do they get away with that?” Sol asked.
“I’ve heard it’s pretty easy all you have to do is get the paper from the city that shows the house has an abandoned title and with that get the gas and electric turned on. I think the city’s happy to get a little revenue from the utilities and fill in some ugly scars with residents. The one’s I’ve seen have had all old people living in them. Young people with families can’t live in the city you know.” The maintenance man pushed the front door closed, winked at Sol, and nonchalantly flipped the front door key to the ground under a purple weigela bush next to the front step, jumped into his pickup, backed around Sols car and drove off up Bayshore waving out the window. Sol stood motionless for a minute trying to process what had just happened. He quickly came to his senses, bent over, retrieved the door key from under the bush and pushed it into his pocket.
“We’re going to move Rebecca,” Sol said as he burst through the front door.
“Have you lost your mind, where are we moving?”
“To the beach house…where else hon.”
“We can’t do that, where would we get the money to buy a place like that?”
“Don’t have to have any money just the abandoned title. Come on get your hat, I can’t wait to show you around. I’ll tell you how we’re going to do it on the way over.”
Sol pushed the front door open after unlocking it with the key the maintenance man had left him. Rebecca reluctantly followed him through the door and quietly closed it behind her as if someone was going to hear them coming in.
“Oh my gosh Sol, this place is in a thirty-year time warp. Looks like the owners walked out one day and never came home.” They wondered through the rooms. The big bedrooms all with bathrooms, three with glass walls facing the beach… the beds were made-up as if they had never been slept in. The closets were full of clothes and shoes.
“Look at this kitchen it’s pink Sol.” Rebecca said and laughed. “But it’s amazing eight people could cook in here and never run into each other.
Sol opened one of the sliding patio doors, the screen was hanging loose, to let in some fresh air and motioned for Rebecca to set down on the blue couch.
“Let’s invite Doc and Rachael to move over here with us and maybe even another couple. There’s plenty of room and it will take all of us to get things back into order and cleanup all the overgrowth outside. We can keep our apartment in case we have to move back sometime. The man I talked with today, who inspects these vacant properties told me a lot of them are occupied by people, mostly seniors like us…come on hon it’ll be a real adventure.”
Doctor “Doc” Martin and his wife Rachael were easy to convince. The move to the beach house was a dream come true. Like Sol and Rebecca, they were New York City transplants. Doc had been a pediatrician in practice for forty years before he retired. Rachael was a registered nurse. They lost a daughter to the disease before they moved to Florida. Their youngest daughter lived in Orlando, married with no children.
“Let’s see if George and Marilyn Bernstein our friends from the synagogue would like to move in with us, they’re fun and I’m sure would be interested in an adventure,” Doc suggested.
Sol applied for the vacated title and it was granted with no fanfare from the city. Within a week the group…Sol and Rebecca, Doc and Rachael, George and Marylyn had become permanent residents in the Bayshore beach house.
“You guys keep a look out for strangers.” The city maintenance man told them. He stopped by while performing his walk throughs of neighboring vacant houses shortly after they had moved in. He wasn’t surprised to find Sol and his gang in residence.
“I’ve seen evidence of druggies in a few houses lately. Do you have a gun?” he asked.
“Heck no,” Sol answered. “None of us would know how to fire a weapon.”
“Like hell,” Doc popped up. “I was in the Army I know how to fire a weapon.”
“Bull crap, honey,” Rachael butted in. “You wouldn’t know which end to put a bullet in. You were in the medical corps checking boys for hernias and that was sixty years ago.” Everyone laughed.
“Well, anyway keep an eye out,” the city man said as he climbed into his pickup.
“See you all in a few months, you hear.”
The gang had been working on repairing flag stones that had washed out over the winter in the walk leading down to the beach. Sol made a trip up to the house to use the bathroom. When he walked through the open sliding glass door into the living room, to his surprise, two straggly looking young men and two beat up looking young women were setting on the blue couch and in the two big lounge chairs.
“Hi ya Pop.” One of the men with a cigarette or joint hanging out the side of his mouth, Sol couldn’t tell which, said.
“What are you people doing in our house, get out-a-here or I’m calling the cops.”
“I don’t think so Pop,” the straggly guy said pulling back the tail of his black t-shirt exposing a black Colt 45 pistol tucked into the top of his filthy blue jeans. The girls began to giggle.
“You’re the one whose getten out. Go round up your buddies. We’re gonna give ya about fifteen minutes to clear out.”
“But you can’t do that we live here.”
“Ya got bad hearing Pop?” The straggle moved his hand up on the gun. “I said go gettem now…move it.” Sol shuffled out the patio door and yelled at the group to come inside and to hurry.
“These shit head kids are kicking us out of our house guys. The dirty one over there has a gun,” Sol said when they were all inside.
“That’s right gramps…let’s go …head em up and move em out.”
“What about our clothes?” Marilyn asked.
“You can take whatever ya want grandma long as it doesn’t take more en fifteen minutes, so ya better hustle your butt.” Everyone scatted into their bedrooms and started throwing their clothes on the beds.
Back at the Flamingo they gathered at Sol and Rebecca’s old apartment.
“Now what?” George said. “We didn’t have a ton of our own stuff at the beach house but I’m not inclined to lose it all to a pack of derelicts, what about you all?”
“Not sure what we can do,” Sol said. “We can’t call the police, they’re not going to do anything. Let’s just see how things play out over the next few days. Doc, George and I will check out the house every day on our way up to the senior center.”
“We all knew the down side of moving over there,” Rachael said dejectedly. “We still have the old Flamingo to fall back on, it’s served us well for over twenty years.” Everyone mumbled yeah and nodded in agreement.
It was raining so hard Sol, Doc and George had almost decided not to make the trip up to the senior center for their daily card game. It had been three days since they had been forced out of the beach house.
“You know if we don’t show up the boys are going to call us every kind of wuss-in-the-book tomorrow,” George said. “We better go.”
“Slow down Sol,” Doc said as they approached the house. “Looks like there’s a van in the drive…no there’s two vans in the drive. Turn around, let’s go back and check it out.” Sol made an illegal U turn and slowly drove back past the house. There was a white van and a black police cruiser van setting in the driveway. They couldn’t see the letters on the white van through the pouring rain.
“Turn around again Sol let’s stop and see what’s going on. Sol made another illegal U turn and pulled over in front of the house. They all jumped out of the car and ran up under the front door overhang. City of Miami Coroner was lettered in black on the side of the white van. The double front doors into the house were wide open. Sol stepped inside followed by George and Doc.
“Hello, who’s in here?” Doc called out. The smell of death hanging in the living room hit them in the face. A blue uniformed police officer met them as they entered the room.
“What the hell you guys doing in here, there’s a police investigation under way.”
“It’s a long story sir, but we have a connection to this house. What happened the place looks like it’s been trashed?” Sol answered.
“We got four dead bodies…two males two females. One of the girls was discovered on the patio early this morning by a gal walking her dog on the beach and the dog ran up here probably attracted by the smell. These people have been dead two days anyway.”
“Were they murdered?” George asked.
“No, drugs and booze…drug paraphernalia and empty jugs of booze laying all over the place. They must have had some kind of a party, tell you what.” A tall man dressed in a long white lab coat with Miami Coroner embroidered over the left pocket walked over to the group.
“Come on there’s nothing to see here gentlemen. Officer escort them out please.”
“Wait a minute I’m a doctor,” Doc said. “May I take a quick look at the bodies. Strange that they all died of an overdose, you’d think one might have survived…don’t you think?”
“Be my guest, make my job easier.” The coroner motioned with his hand toward the bodies on the couch and slumped down in the living room chairs. Doc borrowed a pair of latex gloves from the coroner and approached one of the girls on the couch. He lifted her eye lids, pulled her jersey top up and examined her abdomen…pulled the legs of her jeans up and looked at her ankles and bare feet. He went through the same process with the other three bodies.
“The blood pooled in their ankles is certainly characteristic of rigor, they’ve been dead for a while.” Doc said to the group that had gathered around him as he examined the bodies. But their abdomens and chest and necks are covered with exploded capillaries, same with their groin areas. These people died of massive strokes. My guess is they all had advanced sickle cell disease and the shock of the drugs, probably meth by the looks of the needles laying around, topped off with alcohol shut down their already weak lungs causing their bodies to stroke out. Maybe they already knew that they were dead from the disease and decided to have one last blast. They probably died very close to the same time of day.” The coroner stepped over to where Doc was standing over one of the dead men.
“Good thoughts doctor, I didn’t get your name.?”
“That’s because I didn’t give it but it’s Martin, Doctor Robert Martin, but everyone calls me Doc.” Doc said as he grabbed the coroners hand and shook it.
“I agree with the stroke possibility but I’m not so sure about the sickle cell connection.”
“Believe me when you do an autopsy you’ll find their lungs full of sickle cell. When I was in practice in New York I saw hundreds and hundreds of young adults and children dead or dying from the disease and their bodies all looked like the ones laying here on the couch.”
“There won’t be an autopsy Doc, unless these kids have next of kin that demand one, unlikely, none of these people have any ID on them. I’m going to record cause of death as drug overdose.”
“Sounds reasonable to me.” Doc said.
“Now you boys leave us to our work,” the coroner said motioning toward the front door. “We have another van and crew coming here in a minute to help bag and haul these kids away.” The police officer walked out to the front door with them. The rain had moderated to a fine heavy drizzle.
“Why do I think you people have more than a passing interest in this place? You were living here before this whole thing came down weren’t you? I figured someone had been, the house and yard are in to good of shape to have been abandoned for years, like so many I’ve seen.” Sol looked at his friends.
“Yes, we lived here with our wives for the last couple of weeks until these druggies showed up and ran us off three days ago, we were planning on staying. Got an abandoned title and everything hooked up, the whole nine yards.”
“Well, looks like you can move back in, but guys, buy yourself a shotgun or two for protection and if you have any more trouble call me…will you,” He said handing them his business phone code strip. “Won’t do any good to call 911 no one will respond, officially this address doesn’t exist.”
Like snow bird tourists lined up along the beach, The Bayshore gang sat on the beach house patio in their loungers enjoying the mid-morning sun. The girls wearing matching sun glasses and wide brimmed straw hats. Sol and Doc were setting next to each other under the shade of a large blue, red and green cabana stripped umbrella. Touching his arm and almost whispering Doc said; “Did you bring it out here with you?”
“Sure did, take a look, it’s laying on the towel beside my chair.” Doc glanced down to the right of Sol’s chair. There it was, its blue-black barrel shiny in the sunlight, a 12-gage pump shotgun. He nudged Sol with his elbow…“We’re going to be ok, huh.” Pulled his hat down to shade his eyes and slouched back down in his lounger.
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