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Our Judge: Rebecca Young

Rebecca Young is an award winning journalist who has also worked in public relations and marketing and publishing. She is working on her first book: The Pessimists Guide to Optimistic Thinking. She also blogs for family and friends at http://www.youngsontherun.blogspot.com/.

As a member of the Bahrain Writers’ Circle Rebecca is an active member of our Creative Writers’ Workshop group and has won almost all of our monthly challenges. She graciously agreed to judge this month’s challenges and has provided helpful and detailed feedback to all our entrants.

Thank you Rebecca!

THE CHALLENGE

This was the prompt for the challenge story to be completed within 2000 words:

The prompt:

“The plane lifted off the runway and into the air. The person next to you turns and quietly whispers in your ear, “I know I’m supposed to keep this a secret, but I absolutely must tell someone.”

And here are Rebecca’s winners:

1st Place Simi Kamboj

If I Could Tell You

We are withholding Simi’s story as she is developing it further.

2nd Place Kelli Horner

The Secret

Eliza counted the money in her wallet- $42.58.  She had splurged on a coffee and a blueberry muffin at the airport Starbucks.  It was the first time she’d had Starbucks since Craig left four years ago.  Her per diem was fifty dollars, which seemed a bit much, but she wasn’t going to complain.  She had already figured out that she could pocket forty if she ate the continental breakfast at the hotel, drank the coffee at the training center and stuck to fast food for lunch and dinner.  One-hundred and twenty bucks could get Colby a new pair of shoes and Alex a new winter coat.  Plus she could pay the gas bill for the month.

She sighed and buckled her seat belt. Eliza knew that she was lucky for this opportunity.  There were people who had been at the office a lot longer than her but her boss, her friend Pammy, knew Eliza was struggling to make ends meet.  She offered Eliza the trip as a much-needed break from her role as single mom of three, with the added bonus of paying her overtime.  It would mean filling the refrigerator, paying the rent she owed and guaranteeing that the water would stay on for another month.  Pammy was her savior.

Eliza closed her eyes, determined to forget about her financial problems for a bit and maybe even sleep a little.  The flight was nowhere near full and the passengers seemed to have stopped boarding.  She smiled, grateful to not be sitting beside anyone.  She had just started to put her feet up on the seat beside her and open a well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice when an airline employee helping an old man down the aisle stopped beside her.

The old man seemed lost inside his too-big suit jacket.  He reminded her of the old man from Up– big nose, bigger glasses, a shock of white hair on his head.  The employee gently turned him toward Eliza and, pointing to the aisle seat said, “Mr. Watkins?  We’re here.”  The old man, who had been watching his shuffling feet, slowly lifted his head and adjusted his glasses.  He looked confused and it seemed to take him a moment to remember where he was.  The employee handed him his ticket and the fog seemed to lift.

“Right, sorry,” he said, cheerfully and allowed the employee to help him into the seat and to buckle his seat belt.  The old man smiled broadly at Eliza and she couldn’t help but smile back at him.

The plane lifted off the runway and into the air.  Just as Eliza unbuckled her seatbelt, planning to move to the window seat, for a little extra room, the old man touched her arm, startling her.  His eyes were twinkling and he smiled a wide smile.

“I know I’m supposed to keep this a secret, but I absolutely must tell someone.”  He looked around as if to check if someone was listening.  Eliza smiled politely and waited, hoping she wouldn’t have to humor him for too long.  “I’ve just won the lottery.”  The old man giggled and covered his mouth, like a schoolgirl.

Eliza smiled politely and said, “Well, that’s wonderful.  Congratulations.”  She continued her move to the adjacent seat when he took her hand, stopping her.  His hand was cool and papery.  His grip was tighter than she would have expected.

“I’ve never even played the lottery before.  Did it this once, on a whim.  My buddy Arnold plays every week, the same numbers, the same order.  ‘Give it a go, Eddie,’ he said.  That’s me, Eddie Watkins,” he said, slowly offering his hand across the seat.  “So I did.  I played my birthday, my wife’s birthday and my daughter’s birthday.  I almost played our wedding date but then had a feeling that I should stick to birthdays.  Good thing I did, huh?”  Eddie giggled again.

Without prompting, Eddie started talking.  Eliza found herself drawn into conversation with him.  When the drinks trolley rolled by, and Eliza asked for the complimentary water, he offered to buy her a sandwich and a coffee (whoever heard of paying for coffee on an airplane, he muttered).  He told her how he and his sister had practically raised themselves after his dad walked out.  His mom was working three jobs, just to keep them from starving.  “That’s where I’m going now,” he told her.  “My sister’s.  With all this money, I want to finally give her all the things we never had growing up.”

His sister April was younger than him but already in a home.  “It’s a real nice place- it looks like a real house,” he admitted.  “But I wouldn’t want to live there.  A lot of rules and the cook burns everything.  No satellite TV, either.  I don’t know what I’d do without my Jeopardy,” he laughed.   “Oh listen to me, droning on.  What about you, young lady?  Do you have a family?”

Eliza, somewhat reluctantly because she didn’t really want to bother him with her problems, said her husband had walked out as well and since then, it had been a real struggle to keep her and the boys afloat.  She had considered taking a second job, but when she mentioned it to Pammy, she had suddenly gotten a ‘well-deserved’ raise.

As she was telling Eddie about Alex begging to go on the class camping trip (which should be free because it’s camping, for God’s sake) suddenly, as though a light had been switched off, Eddie looked confused.  Eliza stifled a laugh; he looked like a little lost puppy dog, looking at her with those big eyes, head tilted to the side.   He was quiet for a few moments and Eliza began to feel nervous.

“Eddie?” she said gently.  “Are you okay?”

He looked at her and smiled a weak smiled and chuckled, but it was almost as if he didn’t recognize her.  Eliza watched with growing concern as he looked around.  She could see the panic building in his eyes, his mouth dropping open, his hands trembling slightly.  He looked at his own hands and saw the ticket he was still clutching and seemed to visibly relax.  And just as quickly, his eyes lit up again, he smiled laughed a genuine laugh.

“Tell me about your kids?   Me and my wife, God rest her soul, we never had any babies of our own.  How many do you have?”  Eddie asked.

Eliza started to tell him about her boys and then hesitated.  “I thought you said you had a daughter?” she asked, thinking she had misunderstood.

“Oh no.  Edith wanted children so bad, but it just never happened.  One of my life’s biggest regrets, though I couldn’t do anything about it,” he shook his head wistfully.  “But tell me all about your boys.”

Eliza told Eddie all about the boys- how headstrong Alex was and how, even at seven, he had taken on the role of ‘man of the house.’  Colby was her artist, her dreamer, always painting and coloring, seeing the good in everyone he met.  The baby, Cash, was nothing but spoiled rotten, she said, laughing.

“A mother’s love,” Eddie mused.  “I can see it all, right here in your face.  You just want to take care of them.  I know you’re doing your best.”  Without warning, Eliza teared up at Eddie’s kind words.  Eliza took his hand in hers again.

They continued to talk, telling each other stories about their families and the lives they’d lived.  Before she knew it, the pilot announced that they would be landing in a few minutes and Eddie began to fumble around in his jacket pocket.  Pulling out his checkbook, he wrote a check and folded it up.

“Young lady, I’d like you to have this.  I don’t know if it will help but I hope you’ll accept a little generosity from an old man.  There’s no way I can even hope to spend this amount of money in the time I have left on this good earth.  I might as well share it around, wouldn’t you say?”  He smiled and handed her the check.

Five million dollars, it read.  Five million dollars?!  Her breath caught in her throat and she covered her mouth to hide a gasp.  Tears welled in her eyes and she pressed the check to her chest.

“Oh Eddie, oh I can’t take this,” she whispered, pressing the check back into his hand.

“You can and you will, young lady.  It’s not a request, it’s an order,” he smiled.

“This is too much,” she said.

“Please, take it.  It would make an old man so happy,” he seemed to plead.

“Eddie, this is unbelievable.  I cannot even begin to thank you.”  She leaned in awkwardly for a hug, trying to turn sideways with her seatbelt still fastened.   Eddie suddenly looked frightened and shrank back.  “Oh!” Eliza exclaimed.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to, I mean… I was only trying to…”

He stared and, again, gave her a chuckle and a dismissive wave, but almost before she’d had time to figure out what she had done wrong, he smiled brightly.  He took her hand in his and held it until they landed.  “Come and meet April,” he said.  “She’ll be waiting for me.”

Eliza helped Eddie off the plane to the waiting wheelchair.  She walked up the jet way with him, with one hand in his and one hand clutching the check inside her wool coat.  Her smile stretched from ear to ear.  She was already planning vacations and new wardrobes and savings accounts.  There would be trips to the water park that summer, maybe even a week at the beach.  It was the beginning of a wonderful new life for her and the boys.

Eliza accompanied Eddie all the way to the baggage claim area.  A woman Eliza’s age approached them as they reached their carousel.

“April,” Eddie said, reaching out his hands.  Eliza stopped, confused.  He had said his sister was younger, but this woman had to be thirty to forty years younger than Eddie.  How could she be his sister?

“Daddy!” the young woman exclaimed.

“Daddy?” Eliza and Eddie asked at the same time.  April’s face fell and she glanced back at a man standing beside the carousel.

“Excuse me,” Eliza said, offering her hand.  “I’m Eliza.  I met Eddie on the plane.  But I’m a little confused.  He said his sister April was meeting him today.”

“I’m his daughter.  My name is April.  Since his sister June died a few years ago, he’s gotten confused and sometimes thinks I’m her.  It’s gotten worse lately, which is why I convinced him to fly out here to live with us.  Me and my husband.”

“Oh,” said Eliza.  Then, as the realization began to dawn on her, she gripped the check harder, tighter, afraid to ask, but knowing she must know.  “Is it… does he have… ?” she started, letting the question hang in the air.

April smiled sadly.  “He wrote you a check, didn’t he?”  Eliza nodded.  “That started just after June died as well.  He became convinced that he won the MegaMillions.  He’s been writing checks left and right, to anyone and everyone who takes a moment to talk to him.  The truth is, I cancelled his checking account over a year ago.  If I didn’t, he would have been bankrupt and writing bad checks all over North Carolina.”

Eliza stood rooted to the spot as April’s husband loaded Eddie’s bags onto the trolley. She waved a weak goodbye to the family, still unable to move.  Eddie smiled back at her and called out, “I hope life treats you well,” giving her a wink.  April began to push his chair towards the exit when Eliza heard him ask, “June, what’s for dinner?”

3rd Place Michelle Schultz

Visions

We are withholding Michelle’s story as she is developing it further.

Something different

This time we’re putting on another entrant’s submission after consulting with him so here it is! Do comment and let us know what you think.

The Delivery by Emad Alfons

The phone kept ringing like a staggering siren, on and on it relayed in the abandoned room. Mayor Bernaski has just left his office heading to Heathrow’s airport to catch his 11:45 flight to Moscow. A few miles away from the central state building occupying the backseat of his bulletproof 745 BMW an alarming buzz itched his right thigh. Again he paneled his cell phone to silent mode but luckily he could still feel it’s vibration throbbing his thigh. Peculiarly he gazed at the screen wondering at the unknown number appearing on the monitor, he gently pressed the answer button and uttered a hesitated greeting tone. The signal was weak and the phone’s charge about to die. Few could be heard from his assistant Tony who tried contacting him at the office but got no reply. Fortunately the message was delivered and the mayor informed of the swap, to take place at the airport. Boris Patel was to be replaced at the mayor’s assistance instead of Tony. The brief chat ended followed by a squeaking low battery indication.

A few minutes later avoiding downtowns crowded streets the driver made a complete halt outside Heathrow’s airport. Patel was alerted on his walkie-talkie of the mayors arrival, hurdling his way to him at an alarming pace. The mayor was joined by his private staff and secretary who accompanied him on every foreign diplomatic event. Regulations committed and check-in cleared the mayor along with 4 of his private staff boarded the plane.

Yuri Bolakov an ex-KGB agent sent his advisors to declare a press conference to be conducted shortly after the mayors arrival. Accommodation was finalized at the Four Seasons hotel and a private duplex suite secured with the supervision of highly ranked statesmen. Conference invitations delivered, attendees informed and the hosting hall ready for the conference. Bolakov made sure that everything seemed normal, his duty was to ensure that this feeling of comfort was present and sensed evidently.  His fierce features and shallow smile made the flow of work managed to complete perfection. All was set early before the plane took off Heathrow’s airport.

The plane took off on time, the busy staff started their work immediately soon after the seat belts icon dimmed. The cabin crew offered cold mint and hot towels, while the mayor being handed his towel gestured with his fingers to the crew member and ordered a cup of coffee. Briefly after the order, Patel followed the white shirted crewman, dipping his hand into his right pocket to grab a black device with a small screen, one of those digital type bleeping devices. The mayor’s phone already dead asked his assistant to put it on charge and was handed another to carry out his phone calls. With each of his team busy with scheduling and planning, his personal bodyguards keen to every motion, no one paid attention to the most obvious detail, the coffee.

Patel was back to his seat beside the mayors secretary, he turns to her and quietly whispers ” I know I’m supposed to keep this a secret, but I absolutely must tell someone”. His words startled her and instead of looking back at her computer screen, her eyes grew weary and worry crippled down her spine. “I think the mayors life is in danger” he added, making sure his voice was only heard by the secretary.

Coffee was served in a paper cup on a small platter with sugar and cream on the side. The mayor immediately poured the cream and added a pack of sugar to his hot drink and started sipping his first mouthful of hot toxin. The coffee contained Ricid, a highly poisonous powder which the crewman added 100mg of it carefully into the cup. The toxin circulates through the blood faster when accompanied by a sugary substance, with minor flu symptoms appearing within 8 to 10 hours. The toxin was now running through the mayors system, and the flight to Moscow would approximately take 6 hours.

“I can’t clearly know where the threat is but the mayor is in danger” Patel continued his chat with the secretary, with her eyes fixed on his lips as if reading his words. There was no appealing threat present on board, no peculiar movements or any sense of instability. Patel could not sense any present danger threatening the mayor’s life on the plane, but the message he received on his private device made him insecure. A professional security man could not figure where the threat lies.

The coffee cup lay empty in front of the mayor and the sense of warmness cuddled his belly, not aware that a toxin will soon be clotting his veins.

The plane arrived at Moscow’s airport at 5:15 with Patel tilting around himself searching for traces of threat but what made matters worse is the normality of things which dissipated a sense of security at it’s most. The adrenaline pumping through Patel’s and the secretary’s veins made everything seem alarming to them, rechecking the mayors luggage and personal belongings. The bodyguards too sticking to the mayor after Patel informed them of the threat. Shortly the staff and the mayor left the airport heading towards the hotel, with the mayor releasing his first cough between his palms. It appeared normal to Patel and thought it was due to atmosphere’s change giving it no much attention, but when the mayor started feeling dizzy and his limbs getting loose and vulnerable he had to act. All his attention was focused now on saving the mayors life, giving no much attention to traces of threat as he knew that the danger had impacted already.

They arrived at the hotel and were welcomed by Bolakov, showing them the way to their rooms. The Mayor was tired and feeling cold by now and prompted angrily at Patel to lead him to the restroom. Holding him by his arms with the help of the bodyguards they penetrated directly the suite with Patel’s eyes grabbing the features of a familiar face, the white shirted crewman standing before Bolakov. His eyes said more than his mouth could utter and took his first steps towards the crewman. He stepped rigidly in front of Bolakov and asked if he could call in for the hotel’s doctor for a quick check up to the mayor. He tested the crewman’s reaction with a few questions and recorded his body language and eyes. He knew he was involved in the scene but the mayor’s life was important at the moment. He accompanied the doctor to the suite where the mayor was fidgeting like a newborn baby lying helplessly on the bed. The doctor predicted a form of seizure or epileptic defect and soon injected the mayor with a mixture of tranquilizers to stabilize the body. 10 hours have passed since the toxin entered the mayor’s body and was affecting the body’s organs. The doctor announced that the mayor should be sent to the hospital for immediate surveillance.

Bolakov and the crewman vanished into thin air, leaving no trace of their presence in the hotel as if their mission has been accomplished. Patel couldn’t simply find them, he stormed the hotel and asked at the reception for the men but everyone denied their existence and some denied their identities. Everything about them was fake, the only thing true about them stayed unveiled. Bolakov and the crewman where members of a secret resistance to arms dealing who used their state jobs as war veterans to defuse any attempted threat to their country. Mr.Bernaski was there to sign a confidential treaty between both countries to import used weapons. Weapons to be used against their own countrymen and soil. The mayor was their target, they had to eliminate this threat at all costs and dismantle the root of future smart missiles being imported to their  country. Worst of all where the two parties behind the deal, a Russian warlord and an English secret arms dealer. The deal was far from legitimacy, but had to be covered delightfully by a diplomatic event, the mayor was attending.

The mayor arrived the hospital at 9 pm with severe neural failure and respiration low enough to decrease the heartbeat to 20 beats per minute. The toxin has been circulating his blood long enough to be curable, at 10:15 the mayor was announced dead.  Patel’s black device rang again and Tony’s number appeared now. Patel read the following message “Reach into the mayor’s right jacket pocket, take the bank card and head to the bank’s headquarters at 182 valon st and ask for Richard Daftport, he’ll lead you to the locker”.  Patel was now in the midst of confusion, alone and perplexed he had to know what was he involved in. He did as Tony told him and made his was to the bank’s main office asked for Richard and was lead to a private room where an iron box settled on a table. Patel was sure that everything had been settled beforehand and everyone played a specific role, each providing a piece of information. He was not asked for any identity nor to present any documents confirming his relation to the mayor.

He opened the box and started running his eyes over some papers with bank accounts and confidential contracts carrying the mayor’s name. He emptied the papers into a bag Richard provided him with and left heading back to the hospital. With all matters being settled by the embassy, Patel now drew patterns attaching one end of the string to another grasping the entire image. He possessed papers of the mayor’s secret contracts with warlords, Tony’s involvement with the Russian secret service police and a plot to assassinate the mayor. He knew that he had to act on both ends, submitting the documents to court and bring Bolakov, the crewman and Tony to justice.

The device rang again with Tony’s number, now the message read as follows “Delivery met”.

And here is one more entry!

The Dependable Passenger by Akbar Khan

That ringing! The alarm? The phone?!

I groggily rose from my bed and made my way to the source of my broken slumber. I pulled open the door, only faintly aware of my surroundings.

Slowly, it came back to me, as I looked at the bell boy’s face. “Senior, you wanted a wakeup call?”

“Normally one would just receive a call on the phone, not a personal visit.”

“Phones no work, sir. So I come to you.”

“Why, thank you.” I said closing the door on his tip hungry expression. My political preference holds me from handing out freebies, though political support is subject to change, now that I’m eligible for healthcare. What’s the harm in switching sides for a day or two?

The flight is way too early for my liking; a result of having your family book your flights.

Do people still dress up for flights? I guess you could call a hoodie neo formal, blue jeans go with everything. Flipflops, now that’s just being practical.

I rushed out the door with the pitter patter of my footwear on the cheap carpet, bags in tow. Meager belongings make for a good traveler.

Checking out is an easy process in a dump like this. No services offered, no services charged. I slammed down the bunched notes and keys on the front desk, thanking the cute receptionist on the way out.

Probably should have asked her name. On second thought what’s the point, it’s not like I have time to flirt and she probably isn’t single anyway.

Best not to get myself tangled with another exotic girl, not after the last one.

The taxi rides in Third-world countries are unpleasant, to say the least. Maybe if I paid a little more, I could have gotten the driver to turn on the air conditioning. They always seem to want to make conversation.

“No, really, I enjoyed my stay.” Been stuck in office meetings all week, not much of a vacation.

“Good, I’m happy you like my country. So you went downtown? Met a few of the honeys?”

Oh god! When has this become appropriate conversation? Whatever happened to talking about the weather or the economy? “Yeah, sure buddy, a few.” Smooth…

Twenty minutes of awkward conversation later, we reach the airport.

The airport, highly unremarkable, looks as if it was purposely built to bore any passing on-looker, deliberately lowering the expectations of incoming tourists. The rolling green hills, blue skies and silky sand on the beaches get a noticeable boost by comparison, especially if you had arrived on a flight from one of the local carriers.

It was about 10 before I plopped down on the seat. Economy class, not the most glamorous way to travel. I was looking forward to a quiet flight and to avoid social interaction by burying myself in the in flight magazine. The seat next to me was empty and I hoped it would stay that way.

“hmmm…”

A young lady in a pair of blue jeans and a plaid shirt was struggling to fit her bag in the overhead compartment. My large carry-on-bag was not placed in the most appropriate position. I decided to do the decent thing, get up and help. Ignoring my natural awkwardness, which insisted that my interest be better placed on this fascinating article about research done on drying paint.

Pushing my bag to one side, I managed to make enough space to slot her bag in place.

“Thanks.”

“No problem” I turned and got a good look at her. She couldn’t have been more than in her late 20s. Bright red hair framed her face, along with a friendly smile.

We took our seats, hers the aisle and the window for me. I tried busying myself with last view of the rolling mountains, out in the distance, trough the tiny window. I decided to go back to my magazine but quickly got distracted by my fellow passenger’s fidgeting.

Twirling her thumbs, it was quite obvious she was nervous. Just as the plane started to taxi, I noticed the blood drain away from her face. It was hard not to stare, her fear of flying was quite obvious.

The whine of the engine turned into a rumble as the plane started barreling down the runway. I turned to see the lady had her eyes locked front and was now gripping the armrests. I managed to hide my smile to the other side of my face, more commonly known as a smirk.

My covert amusement didn’t last long. Just as the plane lifted off of the runway. I hear her voice whispering into my ear. Personal space, along with flying, was not her forte.

“I must tell you a secret, I probably shouldn’t tell anyone this.”

All of a sudden we are best buddies; I seemed to have missed that memo.

“Umm, sure. If you want too.” She waited for a key moment, no escape! She could be any one of the horrors seen on the news or a combination. Question is, does she blow up the plane first, or drop the drugs to her cartel friends first?

“I’m afraid of flying.”

I masked my sigh of relief with a nervous laugh. “Well that’s not too bad. Lots of people are afraid of flying.”

“No, you don’t understand. I’m the air marshal on this flight.”

It was now my face’s turn to lose color. Odd that the increased possibility of danger is less terrifying than losing your comfy layer of defense against a highly unlikely danger. Chances that a plane would be hijacked are quite small. Suddenly, I feel like I’m in a really lame bar joke: A terrorist and a cowardly air marshal walked into a plane…

“I know this might be a little unusual..” understating a little aren’t we? “… but I really needed to tell someone.”

The plane lurched as it hit a pocket of turbulence, making her flinch. It almost seemed like the sky was reluctant to let go of his sway over the Ms. Air Marshal.

“Sure. Quite unusual actually. So how did you get into this line of work?” I hope I can carry the conversation long enough for her to relax.

“Two years of training. I passed my exam with flying colors, you know.” She said with a sheepish grin. It made me glad that I could take her mind off of her work disability. I’m still not quite sure if distracting an officer of the law is a good thing.

Weren’t air marshals supposed to be middle aged men with handle bar mustaches who don’t draw any attention? Then again, none would suspect the petite girl with hair bright enough to flag down rescue planes with.

“You’re fear of flying wasn’t an issue?”

“The simulator was well grounded. They didn’t really ask me if I was scared of heights. In fact I have never actually been in a plane before.”

Somehow I do not find the same level of humor as her voice suggests I should have. I guess this speaks volumes about the government and their ability to keep the public safe.

As the plane leveled off, Ms. Red Head seemed to have calmed down but her nerves seem to rattle in tandem with the plane through every pocket of turbulence.

I would have called this a smooth flight but sitting next to someone like her, makes you aware of the slightest bumps.

We had our in-flight-meal, as we chatted away. It might have been the free alcohol I happily downed. I do seem a lot more charming when filled with the right amount of booze. She on the other hand stuck to her juice.

Agitated voices began coming from the rear of the plane. This gradually got louder with one voice becoming the predominate character in the argument. Whoever it was, was slurring his words heavily, obviously intoxicated.

The little passenger next to me scraped up the last bit of her custard before squeezing out of her seat. She briskly walked down the aisle to the source of the commotion. I dived to my right to get a better view of what was happening.

The man had grabbed the collar of a terrified air hostess, while other passengers looked on in shock. He was stumbling a bit, not quite sure what to do now that he was in the commanding position he put himself into. He seemed more than happy to just continue yelling at her. Good

Ms. Scared of Flying, let loose a quick jab to his ribs, while with her free hand she swiped his hands away from his victim. Just as he buckled over in pain, she pushed him to the floor, pinning his hands behind him.

“Stop resisting! You’re under arrest!” She commanded, in a voice quite unlike the one that was whispered in my ear.

I didn’t see either of them for the remainder of the flight. Both seemed to have found seats next to each other, where he could be kept out of trouble.

Leaving the plane, I reflected on the day’s events. This had been without a doubt the most interesting flight I have ever been on. Maybe more people would fly, if they knew they were going to see some martial arts action. Hmm, that could actually work. I wonder if any of the airlines will let me pitch my idea…..

“Hey!” Ms. Kick Ass was jogging up to me a silly grin on her face.

“Hey. That was amazing! Good Job.”

“Thanks. I just wanted to say thanks for everything, Richard.”

“Oh it was no trouble. Wait… How do you know my name?”

“It was on the passenger list. I had to note it down for… official purposes, as a witness. Also your phone number. Anyway, see you around.”

Walking out of the airport, I couldn’t help but hope she would call. Things may finally be looking up.

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Richard Godwin

Our judge for the 4th Creative Writers’ challenge of this year, was born in London and obtained a BA and MA in English and American Literature from King’s College London, where he also lectured. He is also a published poet and a produced playwright. His stories have been published in over 29 anthologies, among them his anthology of stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man. You can find out more about him at his website www.richardgodwin.net, where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.

Richard is the author of critically acclaimed novels Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour and One Lost Summer.

One Lost Summer is a Noir story of fractured identity and ruined nostalgia. It is a psychological portrait of a man who blackmails his beautiful next door neighbour into playing a deadly game of identity, and is available at all good retailers and online here.

Apostle Rising is a dark work of fiction exploring the blurred line between law and lawlessness and the motivations that lead men to kill. It digs into the scarred soul of a cop in the hunt for a killer who has stepped straight from a nightmare into the waking world. It is available here

Mr. Glamour is about a world of wealthy, beautiful people who can buy anything, except safety from the killer in their midst. It is about two scarred cops who are driven to acts of darkness by the investigation. As DCI Jackson Flare and DI Mandy Steele try to catch the killer they find themselves up against a wall of secrecy. And the killer is watching everyone. It is available here.

His fourth novel, Noir City, will be published next year in English and Italian by Atlantis. In it a Gigolo seduces the wife of a Mafia boss and is hunted across Europe.

Thank you Richard for that background information and a new addition to our manner of posting our monthly challenges.

The prompt for our October Challenge was:

While preparing your garden at the beginning of spring, you find the blueprints for your house buried in the earth. When you pull it out and examine it, you find that there is a room in the blueprint that doesn’t exist in your house. Both disturbed and intrigued, you set off to find the missing room. Write what happens next?

There was a slight change if someone wanted to base the story in Bahrain and that was that the blueprints could be found in some location other than ‘buried in the earth’ such as at the back of a shelf, in a box anywhere. The rest was left up to their imaginations. The word count was for 2000 words and all our entrants stayed well within the specified limit. Congratulations to our winners.

The following were selected as our winners:

In 1st Place we have Rebecca Young

Congratulations, Rebecca you’ve won first place for the third time!

THE MASTER PLAN

They had seen a dozen villas that day, but when the realtor showed Kate and Matt the Paradise Palms development, they were sold. It was a huge, new development, still under construction. It aimed to be the premier housing destination for young, hip families in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Paradise Palms had everything on their wish list. It was huge, a labyrinth of quiet streets- all named for exotic flowers. Sidewalks lined every street, perfect for morning jogs, weekend bike rides and nightly strolls with Ella, who was almost 2.

At the front and center was the heart of the development, the clubhouse. The clubhouse included a playroom, a mini-theater, a conference room, a spacious workout room and a party space. Outside was a huge pool, chilled in the summer, heated in the winter, a nice lawn area with two picnic gazebos, a large playground and some tennis courts.

“I love all this! Just think, we’ll be able to entertain here. You’ll be able to play doubles, maybe there will be a playgroup for Ella. It will be perfect,” said Kate. The villa they decided to lease was several curved streets away from these amenities, on Hibiscus Lane, tucked away in a quiet corner of one of the first phases. Kate loved it because it had a larger yard and there would be less traffic.

“It will still be a while before Ella’s riding her bike around,” remarked Matt. “But it will be perfect when she is older.”

The development was brand new and over half of it was under construction. The empty streets with shells of houses in various stages of construction were a little eerie, another reason they chose their villa, on a street farther along the path to completion. A large empty space was kitty-corner from their villa.

“I’m sure it will be built up soon now that the economy is picking up,” assured the realtor.

So the couple signed the lease and in less than a week, they moved from their hotel into the villa. Their house was five bedrooms, which had seemed a little excessive for the three of them. Just more spaces to furnish. But one could serve as an office for Matt and the other could be a playroom for Ella, even though her room really was large enough for all her toys.

Given a generous furniture allowance from Matt’s company, Kate enjoyed outfitting the house. Their shipment came less than a month later. It was providential; Ella had become bored with the small selection of toys they had brought in the carry-ons. And Kate was feeling so homesick for her family pictures, their throws and pillows, her owl-shaped kitchen timer; homesick for all those touches that transform a house into a home. Once they were unpacked and carefully placed, Kate finally felt settled in. Just like that, Villa 264 was home.

“I love living here,” remarked Matt, coming home sweaty from some early morning doubles.

“It is paradise,” said Kate.

The only fly in the ointment was the fact that the development seemed to screech to a standstill. Partially completed villas remained unfinished and no new ground was broken. The empty parcels of dusty earth drove Kate crazy. Especially the lot kitty corner across the street, because all that empty expanse of dirt blew across the street and into her house, sneaking in through the gaps and windows. A fine layer of sand coated everything, her counters, the floor, the fruit in the fruit bowl.

They had lived in Paradise Palms for nine months when Kate had to go to the development’s main office to register their new car for a security sticker. She had walked there, with Ella in tow, asleep in her stroller.

“Hello? Anyone here?” Kate asked as she pushed her stroller through the door. She walked over to the desk, where the secretary, Jeanie, had left a note that read: “Out to lunch, back at 2 p.m.”

Since it was a quarter till two and Ella was still asleep, Kate decided to just wait in the office. She sat down and picked up one of the complementary magazines. She quickly discovered she had already read this issue of Bahrain Confidential. Bored, she looked around the office.

Across the room, one wall was covered in a huge poster, an artists rendering of the aerial view of Paradise Palms. It was a little difficult to decipher at first, but Kate oriented herself and was able to see just how large and ambitious the development was.

While looking at the rendering, Kate spotted several features in the master plan that were not yet built. There was supposed to be a small mosque and cold store in the southeast corner, by Gate Two. Over off of what appeared to be Magnolia, there was supposed to be a play structure in an empty lot. And there, on Hibiscus Lane, just kiddie-corner from their place, was another park. The artist had chosen to illustrate this with swings, a play structure with a good-size slide and some monkey bars.

“This will be fantastic for Ella!” Kate said to herself. “I hope they get to it sooner than later.”

Just then Jeanie walked in, back from lunch and started cooing over Ella, who woke up when the door banged open. She secured the car tag and dreamed the whole walk back of their own playground, just across the street.

“Guess what?” she asked Matt that night. “There is going to be a park across the street from our house in that empty lot!”

“If they ever get around to it,” was his pessimistic reply.

Month after month Kate watched the lot, dreaming of the fabulous play space Ella would have, just a stone’s throw away from the house. They could go there every day, not worrying about bringing along water bottles and snacks and worrying about bathroom timing, because they could just dash home and dash back. As Ella got older, she might be able to play there herself while Kate watched her from her front porch or while puttering around in their garden. It would be perfect.

They had gone to Dubai for a long holiday weekend and when they returned late at night, Kate noticed some construction vehicles had arrived while they were away.

“Oh look, they are going to work on the park,” she remarked to Matt as they were hauling the suitcases inside.

But shortly after midnight, stadium lights flooded their bedroom and the deafening sound of idling semis filled their house, punctuated here and there by back-up beeps, revving engines and bang-clanks.

“What on earth?” said Matt, going to the window to investigate. “I don’t think they are building a park, babe.”

“You think?” she quipped, crossly. Just then Ella woke up and came to sleep with them. They passed an awful night, trying to block out the sound and light. Finally at 6 a.m., the noise knocked off, just in time for Matt to wake up and get ready for work. Kate tried to stay in bed with a restless Ella, but figured going back to bed for maybe another hour until Ella woke up just wasn’t worth it.

“What do you suppose they were doing?” she asked Matt. “Drilling an oil well. Only thing it can be. I’ll ask Bob, he might know,” he answered. “But I doubt they’re finished. We better brace ourselves for another night.” Matt’s words turned out to be prophetic. It wasn’t just another night, it was two and a half weeks of drilling. Kate put up blackout curtains on top of their shades and ran fans at night to try to block out some of the noise, but they were still on edge and exhausted by the end. The drilling always started late and night and finished just after the first call to prayer.

“Why, oh why, does it have to be at night?”

“Something about the gases and it being cooler. And Bob said if we ever hear an alarm, that means they hit this poisonous, odorless gas they run into some time. He said we need to go to the roof right away until it dissipates.”

“So there is a chance they could hit a gas that could kill us and they didn’t think to warn us?” Kate was incredulous.

“Hey, it is paying for our lifestyle and we drive a car. We have no room to complain about a little oil well,” said David. Kate stuck her tongue out at him, which she knew was childish but it made her feel better.

Kate stewed over the oil well the whole time. Ella was crabby due to the lack of sleep, then got sick, so they were housebound. From her room, Kate could see the cranes parked, the equipment at the ready for another night of drilling. She kept thinking about how that was supposed to be her park! Ella’s park. Were they going to still fit a park in front of the well? That was the main selling point of Paradise Palms after all: the green spaces and the parks, not dirt lots, construction noise and oil wells. Finally one day, all fired up, Kate decided to walk over to the development’s main office and get to the bottom of things. Thankfully, Ella crashed out in the stroller the minute they turned the corner.

Jeanie greeted her, “How can I help you today?”

“Hi. I want to know why they are drilling an oil well across the street from my house?” asked Kate.

“You must live off of Hibiscus. We have been getting some complaints, but they are approaching the end of the construction, right on track, within the 20 day estimate.”

“Yes, but why is there an oil well there?” asked Kate.

“Because there is oil there?” said Jeanie, puzzled.

“Obviously, but I thought it was supposed to be a park!”

“Oh no. Oil well. Not a park. But we have a lovely park just off of Orchid and of course there is the one right out here.

“But on the master plan, it shows one right across the street from us,” said Kate, trying to be patient.

“Oh, that thing?” said Jeanie, looking at the wall. “That was before we got government approval for our plans. That was the sales pitch to investors. Not a real master plan.”

“But why do you have it up then, if it isn’t what the development is actually like?”

Jeanie shrugged. “It looks nice. And it would have been nice if we could have done all that. See how much bigger the clubhouse and park are on there? And see the third gate there? And this extra bit of walking trail? You have to dream big, then scale back. It is still a nice development. Just a pity about the oil well. But it should be done and dusted soon enough.”

“Yes, a pity,” said Kate, feeling foolish. The differences were glaringly obvious now that Jeanie pointed them out. “Well, thank you.”

She took the sleeping Ella back home. When she got to her villa, she turned to the lot, where the oil pump stood, partially installed.

“Khalas,” she sighed. “Not a park.” Kate was grateful Ella didn’t realize she’d been cheated out of slides, swings and a jungle gym. She thought about some of the other wells she had seen. Once in a while, they would paint them like giraffes, zebras or birds. “Hmmm… I wonder what it would take to get them to paint it?”

And with that, she went inside, put Ella down for a nap and got online to look for play structures for their back yard.

In 2nd Place we have Simi Kamboj

Congratulations, Simi once again you’re a winner!

THE ROOM OF BEGINNINGS

We are withholding Simi’s story at her request as she is developing it further.

In 3rd Place we have Kelli Horner

Congratulations, Kelli! This was your first challenge and we look forward to more stories in the future.

THE BLUEPRINTS

“I’m not your gardener!” I moaned as my mom handed me the gloves and a shovel.  It was the first day of summer and I’d just finished my freshman year of college.  I needed a couple of days to de-stress before my summer job as a camp counsellor started.

But mom had other ideas.  Apparently, she missed the free manual labour I provided, pre-college.  She decided that it was time to say goodbye to the old apple tree in the backyard, the one that had been slowly dying since I was in diapers.

She smiled a sweet smile, kissed my head and gently shoved me out the door.

“I’ll bring you some sweet tea in a bit, dear!” she promised, shutting the door.  I knew she planned to spend the day in her sewing room, working on a hand-made wedding dress she had been hired to make.  She was going to make $10,000 for this one job, which was why I had to be the one to uproot the apple tree- she couldn’t risk hurting her hands.

Grumbling, I marched towards the tree.  As far as I remembered, it had never produced a single apple in the twenty years we’d lived in the house, though mom told me that the previous owners had used it as one of the main selling points- fresh apples whenever you wanted.  It had supposedly been planted eighty years ago, when the house was first built.

I started digging, hoping to get the whole project over and done with as soon as possible.  It was already hot and extremely humid- summer in Savannah always was.  I had been digging for about thirty minutes when my shovel struck something harder than the dry Georgia earth.  I hit it again and it made a hollow, wooden thud.  With a renewed energy, I quickly dug up a wooden box.  It was about the size of a breadbox and it had been nailed shut.  It looked hand-made and it definitely appeared to have been there a while.

Dropping the shovel, I hurried to the tool shed to grab some of my dad’s long-neglected tools.  I sat on the edge of the patio and worked at opening the mysterious box.  When I finally cracked the lid, I discovered it had been lined with tin to protect another smaller box, this one an old, expensive looking lock box.  Someone had gone to great extremes to protect whatever was inside.

I felt like a detective, working to open this new box, not knowing what I would find inside.  I hammered, banged, poked and kicked until finally, the lock fell away, winking at me in the morning sunlight.

I was disappointed to say the least- it was nothing but some old blueprints and a key that I distractedly stuck in my pocket.  Still, it was better than digging up a tree. Maybe they’d be of interest to someone- dad perhaps.  Looking more closely, I noticed that they appeared to be the original blueprints to our house, back before the garage had been added on and the kitchen expanded.

Smiling, I walked my fingers over the blueprints, taking my home-from-school-route from the front door to the kitchen to my bedroom when I noticed something strange.  Between the dining room and the stairway, there seemed to be an extra room.

No one had ever mentioned this room to me.

Scooping up the blueprints, I headed inside.  I could hear mom’s sewing machine humming and I knew better than to disturb her when she was in sewing-mode.  She could be a scary dragon lady when she was working.

Feeling like a detective, I went into the dining room and knocked on the wall that ran alongside the stairs.  But it didn’t really do me any good, since I didn’t know what I was listening for.  So I went around to the stairwell. Trying to make as little noise as possible, so mom wouldn’t catch me inside instead of outside, I started to move things out of the closet. It took me thirty quiet minutes to make enough space to be able to fit into the closet.  The closet had a sloping ceiling that ended in a point at the base of the stairs.  When I was little, I used to pretend it was a secret fort.  But if there was a room on the other side of the wall, it would stand to reason that there would need to be a door, and in all the time I spent in this space as a child, I had never noticed a door.

I started knocking on the wall again, not sure what I was listening for, hoping it would be a movie moment and I’d know it when I heard it.  And sure enough, I did.  As I squeezed myself down into a squat position near the back of the closet, I knocked and it sounded different.  It sounded hollow.  Could there really be a door behind this wall?  How did I not know about this?  I poked my head out of the closet and heard my mom’s sewing machine still whining.  I was probably safe for a little longer.

I ran outside and got the hammer and brought it in the closet.  I tap-tap-tapped along the wall until I found the spot where the sound changed.  Knowing I was probably going to get in so much trouble, I hit the wall with the hammer and felt the satisfying give of the dry wall.  I pulled down the rest with my fingers and found that there was, indeed, a door behind the dry wall.  Someone had put a wall over the existing wall specifically to cover this door, it seemed.  The door was small- if I was going in, I was going on my hands and knees.  There wasn’t a handle, only a keyhole.  The key from the lock box!  I pulled it out of my pocket and put it in the hole- it fit, of course.  I turned the lock and slowly pushed the door open.

At first it was too dark to see.  I felt along the wall but couldn’t find a light switch.  I almost had a heart attack when something brushed up against my face, then I realized it was the pull string for a light.  I pulled it and it took my eyes a second to readjust.

When they did, I was confused and then horrified.  The room, which was long and so narrow that I could touch both walls with my elbows when my hands were on my hips, was covered with newspaper clippings and articles about murders.  The newspaper articles dated back more than twenty-five years and were from big cities all over the US- Houston, Washington D.C., Portland, and San Francisco.  And Savannah.  Cities where my parents had lived.

Young girls had been murdered in every city.  Their heads had been cut off and placed on their stomachs with their hands propped up and holding the head in place, like a gruesome Jack-o-Lantern.  The killer had left their eyes open.  Their lips had been sewn shut.

“Oh my God,” I whispered.  The girls were all sixteen to nineteen years old.  They had all been good girls from good families.  They had all gone missing from their high schools or colleges.

The sudden realization sickened me.  My dad was a college professor.  He had taught at all the colleges that the girls had attended.  He sometimes guest lectured at local high schools.  He was kind of weird, a real introvert.  I remember him asking my mom to teach him to sew, so he could fix seams or rips when he was traveling.  He was terrible at it.

Panicking, I knew I had to get my mom out of the house- we had to leave before he got home from work.  Whirling around, I gasped as I ran straight into my mother who had somehow managed to crawl into the small room without me hearing.  My heart was pounding.

“Mom, we have to leave!  Dad might be a serial killer!  Look at this…”  I trailed off when I noticed that she was calmly blocking the doorway, holding up a needle and thread in one hand and a dress in the other.  The look in her eyes, though, was maniacal- like nothing I’d ever seen.   “What are you doing?  What is this… all this about?  Mommy?” I whispered.

She started at the word mommy and for a second, I saw the mother I knew- the one who baked cookies and was president of the PTA; the mom who had driven me to gymnastics and Girl Scouts.  My mom, who insisted on family Christmas pictures in matching sweaters and who woke me up every year on my birthday at 4:26am with a cupcake.

“It shouldn’t really be you,” she started, talking to herself more than me.   “I’ve been so good for so long, only a few girls here and there.  You were such a good distraction.  But you left.  I’ve been bored,” she trailed off.

“Mom?” I whispered again, terrified.

“I’ve been working on this dress for you,” she said, holding an old-fashioned, high-collared dress up.    “It’s going to fit so nicely,” she smiled, seemingly lost in thought.  “This room is sound-proofed, you know?  The people who built the house had a crazy mother-in-law who liked to scream and sometimes she would wander out of the house at night.  This was the only place she couldn’t be heard, couldn’t escape from.  It’s a perfect space, really.”

I whimpered.

“It was never supposed to be you,” she muttered.  “I should’ve buried the box somewhere else.  Then we could’ve had apples… Then everything would have been okay.”

She moved around me, dropping the dress to the floor.  She ran her hands lovingly over the newspaper articles taped to the wall and started reading one of the articles.

“ ‘The clothes they wore were not their own- families and friends were able to say this conclusively.  They were hand-made and fit each victim perfectly, as if they had been made specifically for them.’  They were, you know?  Made specifically for them.  I saw them and could judge their sizes perfectly, even from across the campus.  They never really appreciated the hard work that went into making those beautiful clothes.”

Without warning, she spun around and took my face in her hands and started to squeeze.  She forced me to my knees.  I looked into her eyes and saw that my mom was gone, replaced by this other, insane woman.  She held up the needle again.

“No one appreciates quality anymore. Your father won’t be home for hours.  It’s time I gave you a sewing lesson,” she said, closing the door behind her.

December 2018
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