Short Story Contest Entry: A Tale From The Last 100 Years On Earth

palm tree foreground; hi-rise backgrond

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…

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.


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Fridays With Dale: How to Catch a Muskrat

Title with image of author

Dale Angel

How to Catch a Muskrat

By Dale Angel

It was a shameless pond, sending seductive invitations by way of a gentle wind pushing wavelets carrying diamonds across the water. Birds flew in and out of the thick brush along the edge. The far end had ducks…fluffy baby ones.

“Stay away from the water!” was so much noise as our parents screamed the words on their way to the store. “Don’t go near the water!” They were barely out of sight. We were already there.

Something moved across the smooth surface, coming toward us and creating a V in its wake. We didn’t move. It came just within reach.

My brother leaped out with stretched arms to grab it. He finally surfaced. I pushed cattails with my foot. He seized hold and crawled out.

His sopping wet overalls was damaging evidence. We ran back and built a fire in the wood stove and shoved them in the oven.

Meantime, to mitigate my part I decided to peel potatoes for lunch. The family butcher knife in my hands was like using a machete to peel grapes. The potatoes were nubs.

My brother opened the forbidden crackers and wouldn’t give me any. He ate them all.

Dad came in carrying groceries. Smoke filled the air. He grabbed a broom and used the handle to fish out the burning pants.

Dad was stomping out fire as my brother told them I had eaten the crackers and wouldn’t give him any. He was seven going on fourteen. Already a hardened criminal. He invited me to play 52 pick-up. You know…he drops a deck of cards, and I have to pick them up. I hold grudges.

The nubs were boiling over while war was going on over new pants with a waist versus work overall, which my brother hated.

We went back to the fields to pick cotton. My sisters and I practiced harmonizing songs we heard on the radio. Meanwhile, my brother whispered “Let’s tie a rope to a figure four trap to catch that muskrat!”


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction 9.) Poetry

Writing Book Review: The Irresistible Novel, and Story Trumps Structure

Text: Writers Forum Book Review: Encouraging One Another in the Craft

Today we have reviews of a pair of writing books by Writers Forum member Dave Smith.

This is one way that anybody could contribute to Writers Forum. Send us your thoughts on your favorite books that have guided you as a writer.


 

For my birthday I asked for more books on how to write. Why do I do that to myself?

After reading probably a hundred such books (well, seems like it anyway), I realize there is no one correct way to write, and I can always find some author/expert who agrees with my personal theories and methods. Does that make me an expert? Hardly. I don’t write those books, I read them. Those authors make money from their writing, I don’t.

Ever read an authority who says “You have to have an opening hook with action”? Of course you have. Me too. So we all jump on the opening-action-hook bandwagon. But—and here’s the hook—I can point to another successful storyteller who says, “You must show your protagonist’s regular life first so the reader will understand that action and empathize.”

Open with dialog? Nope. And yup.

Outline?

If you’re nodding yes, yes, yes, in similar frustration, I recommend two books for you to investigate. The first is The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke, and the second is Story Trumps Structure, by Steven James (this one has also been anointed by our Queen so you know it’s a must read.)

The Irresistible Novel is a pleasure because it provides the best of both worlds. Gerke takes each writing rule and presents the argument for and against. He provides tips for working with dogmatic agents and editors, and also offers his opinion on each rule. He wrote the book in short, digestible chapters, and refrained from saying there is only one way. No matter your feelings about how to write, this book will put you at ease.

The title of James’s book says it all. Story Trumps Structure. His emphasis is on writing an intriguing story without worrying about following all the rules to the letter. The book is sectioned in short chapters, each breaking down an aspect of storytelling. It’s filled with great advice, a smattering of graphs and charts, and understandable examples: an easy read, and well worth your time.

Maybe for your next birthday.

Dave Smith


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction 9.) Poetry

Short Story Contest Entry: Incident at Miss Pearl’s

old western stagecoach in front of a brick building

Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.

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.


 

old western stagecoach in front of a brick building

Photo Courtesy Jim Strasma via Unsplash

 

INCIDENT AT MISS PEARL’S

 

Oreanna Rochester gazed at the tintype on the wall, a browned photograph of men and women wearing the latest 1876 fashions and smiling while riding a San Francisco cablecar. She closed her eyes and smiled, too. Soon that would be her. This room, this boarding house of Miss Pearl’s, this Arizona Territory, would all be dust in her memory. San Francisco was her future.

As she did each morning, Oreanna caressed the ornate gold ring, the only piece of jewelry left by her mother, before returning it to the painted tin box containing all her savings and valuables. She locked the box and set it in the drawer of her dresser and placed delicates over it.

She dressed, and hurried downstairs to the kitchen.

“Morning, Rosa,” she said to a woman standing at the stove stirring beans in a pot.

“Buenos dias, Oreanna. Miss Pearl said she wants you to make sure rooms are ready.”

“How many?”

Rosa shrugged and held out a piece of paper. “And she also wants you to go to Señor Black’s store to pick up the things on this list.”

“Why me?” Oreanna asked, giving Rosa a why-not-you stare.

Rosa shrugged again. “Do you want me to ask her?”

No, of course not. Miss Pearl didn’t like her orders being questioned. Oreanna sighed and finished setting the table for the two boarders and the few locals who would soon be enjoying the morning’s meal.

 

Two hours later, the heels of her boots sounded confidently as Oreanna strode over the wooded sidewalk on her return from Black’s Mercantile. She imagined herself in a New York dress, flowing over the planks, the tips of her high-button shoes revealing themselves flirtatiously as she glided along.

 

# # #

 

The weekly stage rumbled into town just before noon and came to a rest in front of the depot down the street. Dusty travelers stepped out and managed a few uneven steps until they had adjusted their balance.

From Miss Pearl’s front door Oreanna surveyed them, discerning who the day’s contributors were. The last gentleman out—tall, thin, trimmed mustache, gray suit—drew her attention. He knew fashion, and it raised her eyebrow.

The stage hand pointed toward Miss Pearl’s. Oreanna waved her arms, letting them know they, and their money, were welcome.

 

At Miss Pearl’s behest, Oreanna always sat with stage patrons during lunch, smiling and questioning where they were headed, and why. She addressed the distinguished young man in the gray suit.

“A doctor? Really? You look much too young to be a doctor,” she said.

“Looks can be deceiving,” he replied. “I have degrees from Harvard in medicine and biology. Perhaps it is my keen interest in others that keeps me appearing young.” He returned her gaze without a flinch.

Her eyes followed the slow movement of his hand, with its slender fingers, down to his vest pocket. He retrieved a watch connected to a gold chain and kept the watch low as he flipped the cover.

She flushed and turned her attention to the gray-haired couple who had been on the stage. “How are you finding your lunch, Mr. and Mrs. Podmore?” Had she had spoken loud enough?

The woman motioned to her plate. “What is this shredded meat?”

Oreanna hesitated, then said, “It’s a local specialty. Do you like it?”

Mrs. Podmore had already scooped more and stuffed it into her mouth. She nodded.

“So, Doctor,” Oreanna asked, “where are you continuing on to?”

“Los Angeles, where a school friend has an opening for me in his practice, but, as they say, nothing is permanent.” He stared at her again.

And again she flushed and turned away. That feeling.

The front door opened, and the stage driver walked in. “Sorry, folks, but I’ve got some bad news. Seems we have an axle problem. The blacksmith says he can fix it, but it’ll take some time. Looks like we’ll be stuck here until tomorrow morning.”

Oreanna smiled and spread her arms. “Well if you’re going to get stuck, this is the place to be,” she said. “We happen to have rooms available for you, and Miss Pearl would love to have your company for dinner this evening.” She noticed the single twitch of Mrs. Podmore’s eyebrow.

The doctor eyed Oreanna and asked, “Tell me, what is there to do in this town for a few hours?”

“The bar has a piano player,” she said, “if you enjoy music. Not what you might hear at Harvard, but he does a reasonable job.” She forced a grin. Realizing she may have insulted a paying customer, she added, “If you’d like to ride, the livery will rent you a horse for the afternoon.”

“What about Indians?” Mrs. Podmore asked.

“Not much of a problem anymore,” Oreanna said with a smile. She turned back to the doctor. “What about you, Sir? Do Harvard graduates ride?”

“Indeed they do,” he replied. “and it may be a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Would you care to ride with me?”

“Why, Doctor, you are rather forward, aren’t you?” She flicked her eyelids.

Mr. Podmore grinned.

The doctor said, “I apologize, Madam, I meant no offense.” He stood. “Where might my room be?”

Oreanna rose and motioned with her hand. “Everybody follow me. I’ll show you all the empty upstairs rooms, and you can have your pick. The livery is down the street and off to the left.”

“Well, Dear, I think we’ll not go for a ride,” Mrs. Podmore said. “Rest in a comfortable bed will suit me just fine.”

 

A few hours later, with dishes clean, floor swept, and the evening meal prepped, Oreanna left the kitchen and climbed the stairs. As she turned at the top of them, she spotted the doctor at the far end of the hall.

“Why, Doctor, I thought you went for a ride.”

“Uh, well, I went to the livery, but found no horse I was comfortable with, so I decided against it.”

She pointed to the black medical bag at his side. “Do you always take that with you on your walks?”

“Oh, I had to use some supplies for a minor emergency in the last town, and I thought if I needed to restock I could do so at your local mercantile.”

Before she could quiz him more, he added, “I thought I heard Mrs. Podmore, so I came down the hall to listen at her door.” He stepped forward. “But apparently I was mistaken.” He yawned. “I think I’ll take her advice, though, and enjoy a short nap myself.” He smiled, opened the door to his room, nodded at her, stepped inside and closed the door.

Oreanna stood for a second, then shook her head and continued to her room. She flopped onto her bed, and glanced at the photograph on the wall before closing her eyes.

 

# # #

 

Late in the afternoon, Oreanna set Miss Pearl’s best dinnerware on the table for the special guests. And of course Miss Pearl herself would accompany them for the evening meal.

The elderly couple came down the stairs first and Oreanna greeted them with a smile. “Hope you had a pleasant rest,” she said.

“Yes. It was refreshing,” Mrs. Podmore replied. She straightened her frumpish black dress. “I’m glad the stage needed fixing. California can wait another day.”

They took a seat at the main table, and Rosa brought them a cold tea. Oreanna directed the conversation toward San Francisco, the final destination for the Podmores.

 

The doctor came down and apologized for having overslept. Oreanna narrowed her eyes.

The stage driver and a few locals walked in and sat at the table, and the discussion drifted to the ability of the stage to complete the journey.

Outside, shadows lengthened, then faded, as dusk approached.

The front door abruptly swung wide, and standing in the opening like a statue, one hand on her hip and the other braced high against the door jam, was Miss Pearl, squeezed into a floor-length red velvet dress, wearing long-sleeved red gloves, and sporting an oversized feathered hat that would make a French musketeer proud. Her true self peeked out from the bulges around her midsection and the gray streaks in her hair.

Mr. Podmore’s mouth dropped open and the doctor’s eyes widened. The two boarders, having seen the entrance before, grinned.

Miss Pearl glided to the table, waited for the doctor to pull a chair for her, and sat between him and Mr. Podmore. She addressed the most vulnerable, Mr. George Podmore. “Would you care for a sip of whiskey?” she asked through her bright red lips. “The finest from the east. I’m sure you’ll like it.”

Mr. Podmore beamed and nodded, not looking at his frowning wife.

Miss Pearl motioned to Oreanna, who brought a snifter and set it in front of Podmore.

“It’s such a pleasure to have your company,” Miss Pearl said to the men.

Oreanna poured her a wine. A red wine.

“Please, George,” Miss Pearl said. She rested her hand on his arm. “Tell me about yourself.”

Mrs. Podmore neither spoke nor smiled for the next twenty minutes as her husband tried to remember the manly parts of his youth.

 

George Podmore had just finished relating another exotic adventure when Rosa and Oreanna set platters of steaming meat and vegetables on the table.

Podmore, now on his third whiskey, pointed to the food. “You certainly have a way with cookery,” he said. He leaned toward the evening’s fare and breathed in deeply through his nose. “I’m surprised you can provide these delights out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Miss Pearl bowed her head. “Sir, this may be the middle of nowhere, but food is abundant if you know where to look. Rosa’s husband Jose is an excellent shot, and he can find edible greens anywhere.”

“Well, wherever it comes from,” Mr. Podmore said, “this is a meal that would rival cuisine in a fine restaurant in New York or San Francisco.”

 

After dinner Miss Pearl convinced George to purchase one more whiskey, ignoring his wife, whose face had progressed from frowning to severely tight-lipped.

Oreanna was removing dishes from the table when Mrs. Podmore grunted, stood, scowled at her husband, and said, “I’ll be in my room if I’m needed.” She hobbled toward the stairs.

Her husband slurred, “Pleasant dreams, Dear.” He winked at Miss Pearl.

 

For the next few hours, Miss Pearl manipulated the conversation, and the whiskey bottle, until one by one, the men drifted off: the boarders to their rooms; the stage driver to his blankets beside the stage; the locals to the bar; the doctor and George Podmore to the stairs.

Miss Pearl nodded at Oreanna, smiled, and left the way she had arrived.

 

# # #

 

As was her habit, Oreanna woke the next morning as dawn was not yet definite in the eastern sky. She yawned and stretched, got up and shuffled to her water bowl, splashed her face, toweled, and turned to her dresser. She opened the drawer and removed her tin box, first noticing its lightness, then that the top was bent above the lock. Her eyes lost focus and she slumped onto the bed, box in her lap.

Her fingers lifted the lid. Empty. She gasped, and her hand instinctively covered her open mouth as if it could recapture a lost breath. All her dreams had been in that cache, and now they were gone. She clenched her jaw. Who did this?

The doctor. Of course. A red-hot flash raced over her skin. It had to be him. That’s why he was in the hall yesterday. A few minutes sooner and she would have caught him in the act. Her fingers curled into tight fists and she visualized getting Jose’s rifle and shooting him.

A minute passed, then she wiped her eyes, and contemplated her options.

 

Downstairs Oreanna kept herself busy, not wanting to look any early risers in the eye. She glanced out a window and saw the sheriff entering his office near the end of the street. “Rosa, I‘ll be right back,” she hollered toward the kitchen.

 

“Look, Sheriff,” Oreanna said, her hands on her hips. “It has to be him. Can’t you arrest him?”

“Proof?” he asked.

She waved her arm. “I saw him in the hall with his bag.”

“Oreanna, that’s not exactly proof of anything. But, tell you what. I’ll stop by, maybe ask some questions.”

 

Later, as the guests were savoring breakfast, the sheriff walked in and sat at the table. Oreanna set a plate in front of him.

“Sorry you had to stay overnight,” he said. “Hope you all enjoyed your rooms here—and Miss Pearl.”

Everyone responded with nods and chuckles. Except Mrs. Podmore.

“So, Doctor,” the sheriff said, “I hear you need medical supplies from our store.” He motioned with his head toward the black bag in the seat beside the doctor. “What exactly might you require?”

“Oh, no Sir, I have everything I need,” the doctor said, and rested his free hand on the bag.

The sheriff swallowed a mouthful of scrambled eggs. “Never actually saw the inside of a doctor’s bag,” he said. His focus lifted from his plate to the doctor and he pointed with his fork. “What all do you keep in there?”

The doctor shifted in his chair. “Just a few essential medicines, some doctoring tools, bandages, and the like.” He raised his coffee cup to his lips.

Oreanna, who had been standing in the kitchen doorway, lurched forward. “Really, Doctor, you shouldn’t be so humble. Why don’t you show us?”

The sheriff frowned at her.

All the guests were silent, and motionless.

She snatched the bag, plunked it on the table, and fumbled with the latch.

The doctor grabbed her wrist. “What are you doing?”

Oreanna ripped away from his grasp and shouted, “You stole from me. You went into my room and pried open my mother’s box and took all my savings and jewelry. You’re probably not even a real doctor.” She stabbed a finger at the bag. “Now open it.”

She glared at the doctor; everyone else stared at her.

The doctor reached out, unlatched the bag, and opened it.

Everyone, including Rosa who had come in from the kitchen and was standing behind the doctor, leaned close to look in the bag.

“See,” the doctor said, “nothing but what I told you.” He snapped the bag shut and swiftly latched it.

Oreanna blurted, “Where did you put it?” She turned to the sheriff. “Sheriff, he obviously put it somewhere in his room.”

All attention focused on the sheriff.

“Doctor,” the sheriff said, “seems we have a situation here, and if you could see your way clear to help us out, would you mind if we took a look in your room?”

“Am I being accused of something here, Sheriff? I truly don’t know what Miss Rochester is talking about. I was in the hall yesterday, yes, but like I told her I was checking on Mrs. Podmore.”

All eyes turned to Mrs. Podmore, who said, “I know nothing of this, Sir. I saw no one yesterday afternoon because I was napping in my bed.”

“Yes,” said the doctor, “and that’s why I didn’t speak to you. I simply listened at your door.”

Mr. Podmore stiffened. “Were you spying on us for a reason, my good doctor?”

“No, of course not, I just—“

The sheriff held up his hand. “All right folks, now if you’ll all cooperate, we can get through this. Oreanna told me valuables were taken from her room yesterday, and she wants to know what happened to them.” He faced the two boarders.

“We weren’t here all day, Sheriff,” one said. “We went out to Mrs. Johnson’s place to fix her roof. Ask her. We didn’t get back until just before dinner.”

The other boarder nodded agreement.

Oreanna planted a fist on her hip and flipped her other hand. “Maybe my things were stolen after that. I was down here during and after dinner. It might’ve happened later.”

The first boarder snapped, “And maybe you’re making all this up.”

“Okay, easy,” the sheriff said. “Doctor,” he asked, “would you assist us?”

“This is preposterous,” the doctor said.

“Indeed,” the sheriff said as he pushed his chair back and stood, “but I’m going to go upstairs and check your room.”

“I protest,” the doctor said.

 

Minutes later the sheriff came down and looked at Oreanna. He shook his head.

“Maybe he put it in his trunk,” she said.

“They’re still tied onto the stage,” the sheriff noted.

 

The front door opened and the stage driver stuck his head in. “Stage is ready,” he said. “We’ll be leaving shortly.”

Oreanna sank into a chair. A tear trickled down her cheek.

Mrs. Podmore came over and put her hand on Oreanna’s shoulder. “There, there, my dear. Things will improve. My own mother told me someone always comes along just when we need them the most.”

 

Thirty minutes later the stage swaggered out of town. Oreanna watched, helpless. Doctor, my foot. He’s a scalawag, and I fell for it. She inhaled deeply. She’d not let it happen again. Never! Lesson learned. Trust no one. At least trust no man.

She went back inside and climbed the stairs to her room. She stared at the tintype on the wall, then yanked it down.

 

The next morning Oreanna trundled down to the kitchen, only to find Rosa humming at the sink. Oreanna fought tears as she removed dishes from the shelf and set the table.

 

# # #

 

A month later a letter from San Francisco addressed to Oreanna arrived with the eastbound stage.

 

My Dear Miss Rochester,

You were right about one thing; I am not a doctor. But trust me, you were wrong about something else; I did not steal your valuables. On the day in question I heard a noise in the hall, so I stepped out to investigate, only to see Mrs. Podmore just entering her room. I eased down the hall to listen at her door. Although you might find that unusual, it’s my job. You see, I’m a detective, and for over a year I have been on the trail of Mr. and Mrs. Podmore, who indulge in many more nefarious activities than just ransacking boarding-house rooms. I perhaps should have uncovered myself at Miss Pearl’s, but my orders were to follow them until they made a mistake that would put them behind bars for years. I followed them here to San Francisco, where they have finally done so, and they have been arrested and are awaiting trial.

The good news is that I have recovered many valuables from the Podmores, including a handsome ring which may be yours, and if you would care to describe any other items, I can set them aside for you.

I have decided to remain in San Francisco, so if you decide to travel here, do look for me, as I would appreciate an opportunity to act more gentlemanly toward you.

Yours,

Joshua Mills

 

Oreanna recalled Mrs. Podmore’s final words to her, “. . . someone always comes along . . . ,” then remembered her own admonition to herself—trust no one, at least no man.

She put the letter in her tin coffer and returned the container to the dresser. After staring at the wall for a minute, she took the photograph from a drawer and hung it again.


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fridays With Dale: Pending Wishes

Title with image of author

Dale Angel

Pending Wishes

by Dale Angel

I wish for an Olive tree with fancy blue green leaves that throw filigree shadows so I can walk under it and feel wrapped in a gossamer gown.

I wish for a Pomegranate tree with wild tendencies and the appearances of unrestrained growth on malnourishment the fruit drips in red sweet nectar.

I wish for a Persimmon tree that decorates the fall colors in splashes of orange as I walk on the fallen leaves that look like a Persian carpet, their fruit at near death collapses on itself, taste like spongy candied syrup on my tongue.

I wish for that winter bush that covers itself with yellow flowers as soon as the cool winter rains arrive. The small yellow daisies fill my empty sugar bowl with sunshine…all winter. We are not acquainted by name; they may know mine, but I don’t know theirs. I may know their family.

May I have an arbor to hold up the honey covered grapes that look like champagne when the sun shines through them; at the present time they are living in the tops of the wild plum trees. They moved there to get away from the white flies who visit every summer…although, uninvited.

I want to remove this mourning cape I’m wearing for the plum tree that had to be euthanized. I haven’t gone through a spring without her blossoms yet. It grieves me to think about it…but not so much that I haven’t shamelessly peeked at new plum varieties from the catalogue.

I may as well be frivolously extravagant and wish for a blooming Orange tree that emits showers of fragrance through the windows to the sweetened night air. It makes one weak. Add blackberry wine. It’s too late to be strong.

Pending wishes will have to wait in the shadows. Meantime, I’ll romance the Manzanitas, only hours away until they bloom. Their tiny pink flowers are full of sips of honey. Daffodils are waiting their turn to shout, flinging yellow across new green grass as they parade. There are new surprises half asleep, nestled close to the earth watching in expectation for the sun to spotlight their debut and display their costumes for you and me!


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction 9.) Poetry