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Weekly Short Story Contests > Week 86- (June 28th- July 4th) Stories --- Topic: Liberty DONE

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message 1: by S (last edited Jun 27, 2011 06:36PM) (new)

S Lawrence (salawrence) | 90 comments This is one I wrote, that seems to come forth with this topic (maybe?)

Forever Instilled

The desert heat seemed to be magnified by the sun reflecting off the caramel colored sand that stretched endlessly into the horizon. The air was thin and hard to breath; Kelsey tried to take a deep breath, but the sweltering temperatures made even that simple task a challenge. It was almost as if the hot parching air stripped what little moisture present; from his mouth and lungs. He held his rifle ready, his hand sweating as the day trickled by and time slowly passed. He tried to center his thoughts on the area in front of him; watching and listening for anything amiss. His mind wandered in and out, partially focused on his job; interrupted briefly by thoughts of his family and his girl back home. All that felt like another world, more like fond memories, and dreamlike when in comparison to this.

Something caught his eye, did he see something move, or was it his imagination? He lifted the scope of his rifle to his eye and looked in the direction that had captured his attention. The heat formed ripples along the horizon as he surveyed the open landscape. The air was still, and the heat seemed to permeate right down to his very soul. Off I the distance a sand devil rose up and spun away gathering dust and loose sand to arm it self with. Kelsey continued to carefully examine the boundaries of his vision.

What was he doing here? He would much rather be with his girl, or on a lake somewhere relaxing; his favorite rod in hand patently waiting for a strike. Six months ago he was playing basketball and hanging with his friends, now he found himself here in this God forsaken land, a Marine, protecting and aiding people he had never met, and until a few weeks ago, never even entered his mind. His farther was so proud of him at the graduation ceremonies, when he received his globe and anchor. He did what his father and grandfather had done before him, what was expected of him and what he proudly did to serve his country. Serving was an honor and thinking back on the liberal pacifist the media fore fronted; he can vividly recall the nausea he felt watching the monitor in the air terminal.

The Media was happy to show them and their petitions against the troops deploying to this assignment, touting all the reasons opposing a presence in this country teaming with Biblical history. He found it some what rhetorical; as if they were running a retrospect from the sixties and protestors of Viet Nam he studied in Social Sciences. He grimaced a little thinking; they sit by enjoying the comforts and benefits, because of sacrifices that others made before him and as he does now. “Would the people whom lost friends or loved ones in the 9-11 attack approve of their petitioning ? No he sighed, no American would be opposed to his efforts to defend and protect those unable to care for themselves. He was not out here to slaughter innocent women and children, did the Media and the woe Sayers causally forget the atrocities committed against the innocent victims here? They would rather point fingers at political leaders.

The honor he felt in service to his country, used as a bargaining ship by men and women lacking the backbone and fortitude to even be here beside him, they couldn’t possibly understand. If they had seen first hand the horrors and travesties inflicted on the innocent people of this country, would it…something moved again! This time he was sure he’s seen it. Over there to the right, his stomach started twitching. He felt the sweat running down his face over the camouflage paint from under the brim of his helmet. There it was again, he placed the scope back to his eye, and looked off in that direction. This time he could see the white turbine of the Taliban soldier. He radioed in to his captain;”Yankee tango seven to Eagle three” he whispered into his helmet microphone.

“Tango seven; Eagle three copy ”

“Eagle three, target in range moving east by north east five clicks, copy?

“Tango seven, is the target hostile?”

“Affirmative Eagle. I see two targets with weapons clearly visible.”

“If you witness hostility you are clear to engage, but there must be clear hostility witnessed before return fire, do you copy?”

He felt his heart beating faster, this is what he was trained for. He tried to take another deep breath. “Copy Eagle…stand by.” he whispered, then he watched them moving closer towards his location. He held his weapon up; it felt so heavy now, as he brought one of the two men into sight. He felt his nerves building, his hands began to shake, he had never taken a life before. Thoughts passed through his mind; he remembered... He had shot a deer before, but that was hunting with his father, that was different. This was another human, will he be able to pull the trigger if the need arises? Then the sound of the enemy rifle popped, and he glanced to his right, Connor yelled “I’m hit dear God I’m hit! Medic! He could hear Connor trying to fight the pain and still keep hidden. Kelsey had just witnessed hostility…”Eagle three, tango seven, tango five is down, copy?”

“Eagle three, say again Tango Seven; over?

“Connor’s been hit he needs a medic!” his voice showed his nervousness and concern.

“Eagle three, Seven copy, Medics in route. Seven, do you have visual of bogie?”

“Affirmative Eagle, I have clear visual!”

“Tango Seven, you are clear to engage; .do you copy?”

“Copy Eagle, Stand by!”

Kelsey brought his rifle to bare on the man in the distance, the man….he thought briefly, this was a man, he may have a family as well…he couldn’t think about that now, his friend was just shot by this man. He placed his hand on the trigger and centered his scope on the mans head…he felt his hand shaking harder now, what was it his sergeant told him to do…”kill the wabbit kill the wabbi”t in an Elmer Fudd voice. He remembered but that brief thought didn’t make this any easier. The heat seemed worse his sweat building heavier, then he saw the man turn his weapon towards his direction, now he had to do what was required, he gently pressed his finger on the trigger his stomach now twitching harder, then he heard the sound of his rifle bark and he saw it impacting the mans skull, he could see blood and tissue coming from the other side as the man fell back to the ground. Then the other msn turned towards him and swung his weapon around. Kelsey centered his scope on him and squeezed the trigger again. His rifle bucked in his hands and he could see the round, hitting the mans face; blood exploding from the point of impact as the mans body fell back like a rag doll. It was almost like slow motion, his actions automatic; just like he was trained…he looked on at the devastation, from his hands. He felt the nausea building, then he turned away as his stomach started to convulse, he began vomiting heavily. What had he done, he had taken life. The horror now real hitting him hard; “Thou shalt not Kill “ he remembered one of the ten commandments. He finally stopped the vomiting and wiped his mouth off with his sleeve. He pressed his mic and took and tried to take another breath of the hot still air, then between staggered breaths “Eagle Three, Tango Seven, target neutralized.”

“Tango Seven, Eagle Three, copy target neutralized good job, medics in route eagle out.”

Kelsey could still feel the nausea inside, what would Kim think if she knew what he’d done, that he killed a man…Two men! He could still hear Connor struggling with the pain and anguish. He felt some vindication for what they had done to his friend, but was the sacrifice those two men paid worth the loss. Those men would have killed him if they had the chance, what would those petty pacifist have done; invited those men home to dinner to discuss things. he knew where that would have ended, they stand on their soap boxes rendering their spew. Don’t they even realize they are working for the terrorist trying to tear America down from the inside?

He pursed his lips, and thought, “Maybe they do! Perhaps the freedom they enjoy because of the sacrifices of his personal morality, and the horror he will bare the rest of his life, will never mean anything more to them than something they feel they have a right to.” If theses terrorist killed their son or daughter would they still sand on a soap box pressing for us to stop? If it’s not disrupting their personal life and taking away their morning herbal tea…

“But,” he thought some more, “even the Sarge said, we have to protect the idiots too!”

He lifted the scope to his eye again and looked in the direction of the two men he had just shot. They were dead, and he wasn’t! two less terrorist, his thoughts went to Connor, and the pain he was in. “Where are those medics?” the image of those men and his bullet impacting them now burned into his mind, Forever Instilled!”

SA Lawrence

message 2: by M (new)

M | 11048 comments Good job, Stuart! Your description of the sand and heat make me feel as though I'm there.

message 3: by S (new)

S Lawrence (salawrence) | 90 comments thanks M, did you need some water?....lol, I appreciate your kind words

message 4: by S (last edited Jun 29, 2011 06:07AM) (new)

S Lawrence (salawrence) | 90 comments Thanks for reading and your comment as well Alex. It's always nice to have good reviews!

message 5: by M (new)

M | 11048 comments One of the landmarks here was the Liberty Hotel. It burned in 1972. I've been thinking about writing another old-hotel story.

message 6: by S (new)

S Lawrence (salawrence) | 90 comments that would be a nice hub M

message 7: by M (last edited Jul 05, 2011 01:56PM) (new)

M | 11048 comments Dear moderators, I realize this one is far too long, but every time I try to make it shorter it just gets longer. I've posted it in two parts.

by M (about 3,036 words)

In a blistering August noon, M, a man in his mid-forties, wearing boots, khakis, and a bucket hat, was cutting brush and scrub trees that had grown up along the cove. The nearby hillside was scarred where a trailer he had loaded with limbs had gouged it in the fall. Winter rains had washed some of the dirt out. After setting down the saw and wiping sweat from his face, as he returned up the hill to make himself a sandwich, he stopped when the glint of sun on gold caught his eye.

Kneeling, picking up a stick and scraping dirt away, he wondered how a ring had gotten there. Perhaps a former owner had buried the family silver on the knoll. As he made his way toward the house, in the grove of post oaks a peculiar feeling came over him that he wasn’t alone. He paused and glanced around. A red-shouldered hawk swooped to alight on a low limb. To the north, in a draw, sprawled a huge fig tree. To the east, beyond the house, the hill continued to rise.

After rinsing the ring in the galley sink, he examined it with a magnifying glass. On the inside were engraved a a woman’s name and date. It was too small for his ring finger, though it slid onto his little finger as though it had been sized for him. A spidery sensation prompted him to take the ring off. After lunch, he got a shovel and went on a treasure hunt but accomplished nothing more than making a mess in the yard. What was needed was a metal detector. A shower and a change of clothes made him feel better. As he dressed, he watched through the bedroom windows as several deer grazed in the dry grass on the knoll.

In the afternoon he drove into town. On the desk in his bright office in the back hall of the clinic were several phone messages, some in Robin’s handwriting, some in Dru’s. New prescription blanks were ready at the printer. His Aunt Jean had called and would call back later. Sorting through mail, he couldn’t get his mind off the ring and the engraving on its inner surface: Angelique M. Mourir, 1870.

Late that afternoon, he walked back down to the cove to retrieve some tools he had left. On a pier a ways up the shore, Gerald Bailey, his neighbor, was repairing a wire cage. M walked over to say hello. Now elderly, Bailey had grown up on a farm near there and knew all kinds of things about the community. Hearing steps on the dock, he looked up from his work and said, “Hi, M! Whatcha know?” M told him about the ring he had found. Gerald shook his head. “Never heard of anyone named Mourir.” Working with a pair of needle-nosed pliers, he listed as M asked him to some questions about the property. “All this used to be the Torrington farm,” Gerald made a sweeping gesture, “until the City built the lake. There once was a big, Victorian farmhouse on top of that hill yonder. It burned.”

M was at once intrigued. From Bailey’s pier, he had good view of the knoll and the high hill beyond. “Did you ever know what used to be where our house is, before the cider mill was there?” Bailey fixed a piece of wire mesh to the wooden frame, where the old wire had rusted away. “Yeah, but that was an awful long time ago. I was just a kid.” M helped him hold the cage while he put a wire tie in place. He glanced at M. “The Old Cider Mill Road was just a white sand road in those days. It went over to Antioch Community.” He smiled, remembering. “I’ve been all up and down these roads.” He glanced across at Dr. Ashland’s house, its plate glass gleaming in the evening. “The house that was there was old, even back then. It was a one-story house, plain, with a porch across the front that had square columns.” A faraway look came into his eyes. “It had been a nice place at one time. Dad said an old man lived there all alone, one of the original pioneers, but I never knew anything about him.”

Over the next few days, M spent hours at an oak table in the dusty archives of Meryvale Library. He confided to no one that he was there because he had seen a ghost. She had been standing among the oaks on the knoll, the day he had found the ring, watching him in the twilight as he walked out on the patio to a brick well that Gerald Bailey remembered from childhood. The chill of a sixth sense had alerted him. The light was so low that the color had seemed washed out of the scene. She seemed to want something, though he couldn’t have guessed what. Her long, white-blonde hair was tied behind her. Her beauty was lonely and electrifying, and a dark undercurrent of intuition alerted him he shouldn’t have put the ring on his finger. A moment later, she had been gone. Prey to a yearning he could not have described, he had run across the yard to the place where she had stood. Then he had walked about, searching aimlessly, confused.

At the clinic, Jean Stratton had come in for a follow-up visit. Her husband sat in the waiting room. To M, George Stratton was a wealth of information about Meryvale. He remembered in detail the old Liberty Hotel, one of the town's landmarks, that had stood near the depot and had burned in 1972. “Hey, there!” George greeted, putting down a magazine, shaking M’s hand. Reaching in his pocket, he brought out a frayed matchbook. “I’ve got a souvenir for you.” On the cover was black-and-white picture of the hotel, its name at the top, a five-digit phone number at the bottom. “The Liberty was just awful inside,” he smiled. M laughed and thanked him, and asked George what he knew about Piney Point and the Old Cider Mill Road.

In early afternoon, after picking up the monthly financial statement from the accountant’s office, M drove to the City Cemetery, in the strange, gloomy countryside on the northwest outskirts of town. Among weathered and crumbling grave markers near an ancient cedar that looked as though it had been struck by lightning was a leaning marker with the inscription: Jared Mourir, 1851-1923.

Behind Summers County hospital, old neighborhoods drowsed in the dust and heat. Driving through them on his way home after work, M wondered why Angelique wasn’t buried beside her husband, though when she had died there was hardly more in Summers County than farms and wilderness. He had hoped to find a photo of her in the county museum’s archives, but there was merely a ledger her husband Jared had kept in a neat, if antique, handwriting.

South of town, M took a winding farm road into the hills. Angelique had died young. M had figured that much out and that Jared had brooded over her death. In pages of the ledger, almost half a century afterward, he had written:

In high grass, a forgotten place:
midday on an oak-shaded knoll;
I feel a sickness in my soul,
swinging the scythe, with sweat-streaked face.

I'd sworn to keep the weeds away.
The hoary oaks, could they but speak,
know how years made me stooped and gray,
. . .

The county’s records of those days were sketchy. The Mourirs had come here from New Orleans in the 1870, in the days of Old Meryvale, the lawless years after the Civil War. Jared had bought or been granted about a thousand acres southwest of the present town. Though M had failed to pinpoint the location of the Mourir homestead, he was almost certain it had been the old house Gerald Bailey remembered.

The road climbed a long hill. In the rear-view mirror, in the blue distance, the spires of the town stood like sentinels above its canopy of trees. M had remained after hours at the office, talking to Lonny Nolan, the janitor, who knew all the hospital gossip. M slowed down. Ahead, near the summit, was a sign for the Candle Abbey. Before reaching it, he turned onto the Old Cider Mill Road. To his left were open fields, to his right woods. At length a brick smokestack came into view and a gaunt, A-frame house. Beyond, Lake Hydrilla glittered like an enormous bowl of light.


message 8: by M (last edited Jul 05, 2011 02:34PM) (new)

M | 11048 comments (“Angelique” continued)

Janet would be tied up until late, making callbacks at the clinic then rounding at the county hospital. Climbing out of his old car, M walked up the hill to the mailbox, waved at Karen Kimball as she drove by, then, back at the carport unlocked the worn-out sliding door and went in. Dropping the mail on the bar, he went down the steps into a room Dr. Bell had called the nave--at least, according to the realtor. To the surgeon who had converted the old cider mill into a residence, the living room had seemed like the inside of a church. Going through a passage into the bedroom wing, M changed clothes. Then he went back to the galley, filled an a old-fashioned glass with icecubes, and made himself a drink.

On the coffeetable in the nave were documents he had photocopied, maps he had sketched from materials in the county archives. As he opened the shutters to a wall of glass that looked out on the patio, the room filled with daylight. On a finger of land that thrust toward the lake towered a grove of shaggy oaks. To one side, the knoll sloped to a creek bottom, the old road, and wooded hills, and the shore of Cider Cove curved to a point of land, where there was a boathouse.

It seemed inescapable to him that Jared had buried Angelique on the Mourir property. In the stained, yellowing pages of the ledger, among sums paid or received and descriptions of farm implements purchased, he had written:

Trusting you to the quiet shade,
how could I leave this lonely land,
but work it with a calloused hand,
heartsick from the mistakes I made?

The lake that was Meryvale’s water supply submerged what had once been farmland. Beyond the grove, the knoll fell away to the creek and an arching, wooden bridge. The shoreline nearby had once been the edge of a pond whose crescent-moon-shaped dam now lay underwater a hundred yards out in the cove.

He reasoned that any number of things could have happened to Angelique. Modern medicine hadn’t existed in those days and it wasn’t uncommon to die young. He wondered, though, what mistakes Jared had made, that had left him heartsick in a way seemingly connected with his wife’s death?

M’s fingers drummed the tabletop as he scrutinized the photocopied ledger pages. If the accounts were any indication, Jared had built more than a bare house. He had paid for milled lumber that had been brought in by mules and wagons, and had hired joiners. He had cleared the valley and grown crops, selling surplus in Old Meryvale, a settlement whose few remains were now in the dark water under the duckweed at the upper end of the lake.

Wherever her grave had been, it seemed safe to assume that Jared had kept it tended until he became too old to maintain the farm. M wondered if the old man that Gerald Bailey’s father had mentioned had been Jared Mourir. It seemed likely. In the early pages of the ledger, on August 17, 1872, Jared had made an entry showing payment to the Coldwell Granite and Marble Co. for a marker. It wasn’t until the last few pages that Jared had scratched the melancholy stanzas.

As M studied the old accounts, the room became dim with the onset of twilight. He was about to get up and mix himself another drink when, gazing out through the wall glass, he saw her. In the grays of dusk, she was standing among the oaks on the knoll, looking toward the house. Scrawled words he had just been reading went through his head:

There is no sign that you are here,
the marker sunken in the ground,
and only the late-summer sound
of insects wakes the atmosphere.

His scalp prickling, making careful note of where she was standing, M got up slowly and went to the laundry room. Propped in a corner were several long, pointed surveyor’s rods made of orange fiberglass. Taking one, he went back to the nave, then opened the sliding door to the patio. As he had expected, Angelique was gone. Locusts buzzed in the trees as he walked through the dry grass to the grove. The ground was hard. The rod didn’t push in easily at first. After he had probed in several different places, the rod struck something solid about a foot down.

After dark, M closed the shutters to the nave and continued his perusal of his notes and the photocopied ledger pages. Nothing in the county’s records showed that Jared had ever remarried. As though cursed, he appeared to have lived a long, solitary life. M reread the final stanzas written to Angelique, a poem scattered through quotidian entries of groceries bought, repairs paid for, the services of a roofer, entries made in the cramped hand of old age:

The white-sand valley, cleared before;
a tangled thicket now, the creek;
loose on its wrought hinges, the door,

where once you greeted me with eyes
I see through sweat and dust and rain,
trudging at dusk, and when the crane
stands in the reeds in the sunrise.

Janet got home about nine, tired. The airconditioning cycled on and off all night. Janet tossed and turned, and M didn’t sleep well. The ring seemed to call him from its place on the bedside table, and in half-asleep, M put it on his finger. Fibers of cold, like roots from trees, crept through him. Going to the nearest window facing the lake, he opened the shutters. Angelique stood among the oaks, her gaze holding his. As he watched, she began walking toward the house. He didn't recall afterward what woke him, but instinctively he took off the ring. As he did, the apparition vanished in the sweltering night air.

The next day, the ring lay on the desk in his office. He felt safer somehow in the daylight, but as the day progressed and lunchtime in the breakroom came and went, as the streaks of sunlight on the floor changed slid from one side of his office to the other, he began to get nervous.

From the other end of the building came a hollow sound of boots on the wooden floor. Suddenly he felt felt pervaded by tendrils of cold. It took him a moment, as his head cleared of the invoice he had been reading, to realize why. A few moments later, the phone beeped. He picked up the receiver. “M here.”

“Angelique Mourir is here to see you.” The voice was Robin’s.

M shuddered. “Uhm, thanks.” He got up and headed down the hall, past Dr. Ashland’s office, past the hallway of exam rooms. Robin Perry sat at her place at the reception counter. Beside her was a stack of charts and she was calling tomorrow’s patients to remind them of their appointments. Dru Harland glanced up from her computer at the medical billing desk.

M opened the door to the waiting room and found it empty. At a quarter till five, Dr. Ashland and Jody Burch, the nurse, were in an exam room with the last patient. M walked across the waiting room to the front door. It was like opening the door to an oven. Wherever Angelique had gone, she had left in a hurry. Beyond the parched, pecan-shaded lawn, beyond Ragsdale Street and parking lots, the old county hospital stood against a bleached-out sky.

Anxious, M closed the door and went to the reception window. Robin had just hung up the phone and put a check by another name. She gave M a peculiar look. Dru asked, “Who is she?” M looked dazed. “She used to live where our place is now, when it was a farm.” Robin made a face. “She needed a bath. Whoo!” Dru looked perplexed. “When it was a farm?” M nodded. “Before the lake was built or the old cider mill was there.” Looking up from her list, Robin stared. “That wasn’t in my lifetime, or in my parents’, either.”

M turned, unsettled. The restroom door stood ajar but the light was off. The waiting room was bright. Afternoon shone in through the cavernous skylight and through the wooden blinds of the big windows. His voice unsteady, he asked, “What did she look like?” He turned back to the reception window, expecting to feel a cold hand on his shoulder or to find her standing in a corner. Robin held the phone receiver in one hand, a pencil in the other. “Like something out of the Old West.” She glanced at Dru, who nodded and said, “Gingham dress, lace-up boots, long hair tied back in a pony tail.” ”Gave me the creeps,” Robin added. Dru nodded vigorously in agreement.

On the way back to his office, M looked in the room of chart cabinets, in the vitals room, in the empty exam rooms. No one was in his wife’s office or in the connecting bathrooms. On his desk were the invoices he had just finished paying and that needed to be mailed. He heard the front door open and Lonny’s cheerful voice greeting the girls, and their laughter. They were happy to be locking files and going home. M knew that soon he must follow the road south of town to a place of long shadows and a terrifying night. He recoiled at the thought of touching the ring. It was then that he noticed the ring was gone.

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