200 Words at a Time: The Conclusion

Oookay, so I kinda went over 200 words.  Quite a bit over.  Doh!

But here’s my final contribution to the 200 Words at a Time challenge by Chuck Wendig.  You can find other great 1000 word collaborations at his challenge post!

Part 1, by Ashley:

He had already looked in the frozen section. From there, he rushed past people toward the front of the store, past the pharmacy.

“Anthony,” he yelled in a panic.

At the end of the aisle, he looked frantically around the corner. Shoppers shuffled with their items and queued for purchase.

Joe parted the people with his hands and maneuvered down the row of checkout lines. The lottery machines usually held Anthony’s interest.

Each step, he squinted toward the machines, hoping to see the top of Anthony’s head appear. An elderly woman drove a motorized cart in his path and he stopped just before knocking himself into the metal basket.

A rush of warmth filled him. His stomach lurched.

“Anthony,” he yelled in frustration.

The woman in the cart looked up at him calmly.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m in the way, aren’t I?”

“Yes, actually,” he said, his gaze darting from the machines to the cart.

He grabbed the front end of the cart and pulled it back, so he could quickly scramble around. As he approached the machines, he saw there was no small boy staring up at them and checking the flaps for freebies.

“Anthony,” he yelled again, this time not as loud and much more desperately.

He looked to the doors, then back into the aisles of the store. A man in a red vest worn by the store employees approached him.

“Sir, is your son missing?”

Joe looked at the concerned brow line of the employee.

Part  2, by Tony Taylor:

“Yes, yes he is.”

Joe’s eyes darted around the aisle full of shocked and concerned faces.  He began to feel light-headed.

The man in the red vest turned to another store employee standing next to him.

“Get to the front of the store.  Tell Julie that we need to lock the store-down ASAP.  Tell her we have a missing child.  She’ll call the police.  Let me deal with the static.”

The employee immediately headed to the front of the store.

Joe was feeling his legs begin to weaken. The man noticed immediately and put his arm around Joe.

“Sir, I know that this is difficult, but we are going to find your son.  Can you walk?”

“I think so,” Joe replied.

“We’ll get to the front office, I’m sure that the police will be here any moment.”

The scattered murmurs from the people gathered vibrated inside of Joe’s head.

“Mr. Miers!”

A blonde woman in a store vest quickly approached Joe and the man.  Moving along side of her was another woman who looked to be a store customer.

“Julie, are the police on their way?” Miers asked.

“I think we should move this to the back of the store,” Julie responded.

Miers and Joe both stopped walking.

“Did you find my son?”

The female customer now standing next to Julie stepped forward and put her arm around Joe.

“This is Kathy Cardona,” Julie said softly.  “This is his wife.”

The woman looked up at Miers.

“There is no missing boy,” she said.  “Our son died six months ago.”

Part 3, by Josée De Angelis:

“What? Are you insane?” Joe looked at Kathy. “And who are you anyway? Look, I don’t know who she is, but I really need to find my son so if you don’t mind…” Joe said, turning from them and starting to look around again.

“Joe, wait,” Kathy said, following him.

Julie and Miers stood there, dumbfounded.

“Joe, stop,” Kathy yelled, reaching for Joe’s arm.

Swinging around to her, Joe said: “I don’t know you. Leave me alone. I really need to find my son. If you want, you can help. He’s about so high” Joe reached his hand at chest level, “has blond hair and he’s wearing a GI-Joe T-shirt _”

“Stop it, Joe. You’re scaring me. Did you take your meds this morning?”

“What meds? What are you talking about?”

Suddenly, Joe’s hands started trembling and his eyes lost focus. He started remembering things in flashes.

A lake. Sounds of tires screeching on pavement. Anthony screaming from the back seat. A broken windshield. An airbag in his face. “Mr. Ward, everything will be alright,” said a woman. “We’ll take your son in custody. Agent Porter will meet you at the hospital for debriefing. Don’t say anything to anyone until you speak to Agent Porter. Do you understand?” Joe remembered nodding to the woman he now remembered as Agent Manning. The woman who just told the store’s employees she was Kathy, his wife.

Part 4, by Lynna Landstreet:

“Think, honey,” urged Agent Manning, carefully feigning a look of anguished concern. “Remember the accident? The hospital? You had a head injury, and Anthony –” she paused for a practiced sob. “– Anthony didn’t make it. I know it’s been hard, but you need to remember.” She gave the word the precise stress needed to reinforce the post-hypnotic suggestion. This had better work, she thought. He shouldn’t be experiencing even partial memory leaks, not this soon. Hopefully the situation could still be contained…

He blinked slowly, the look of wary suspicion fading, replaced by recognition, and guilt. “K-Kathy?” he whispered. “What did I –?” He looked around at the store staff, the curious customers. “Oh god, it happened again, didn’t it? I’m so sorry!”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s OK, sweetheart, I’ll take you home.”

Outside, she glanced up the street to see if her backup was close. They’d need to examine him again, make sure the blocks were holding… But something slammed into the back of her head, stunning her.

When she regained her senses, she was pressed up against the brick wall of an alley, arms twisted painfully behind her back. “I remember everything,” Joe hissed. “Now where’s my son?”

And now, the conclusion….

“Joe.  Mr. Ward. Just give me a moment–”

Joe yanked Agent Manning’s arm up farther, jamming her up against the brick. “I don’t want any more of your bullshit!  Take me to him!”

Manning cried out sharply.  “I can’t! And you know that. Mr. Ward–” She cried out again as her cheekbone cracked against the alley wall.  “Mr. Ward, listen to me!  Anthony is safe.  I swear to you.  But you know you can’t see him. You know that.  Just think! Think!  Please!

The note of desperation in her voice almost stopped him.  But Joe was too angry, too desperate himself.  He shoved her again, snapping her hard into the brick wall; there was a wet, ugly crack. He watched her eyes roll back in her head as she slid to the alley floor.

“No,” he screamed.  He crouched over, grabbing fistfuls of her blazer and trying to shake her awake.  “No! Where is he? You have to tell me!  Where’s Anthony.  Where is my son!

For a moment her glazed eyes focused on him and he felt a new surge of hope.  Her lips moved.  He leaned closer to hear what she had to say.

“Safe,” she whispered.  “Safe from you.”

She went limp under his hands, beyond his reach, her secrets carried with her. He stared at her, filled with such anger that for a moment he raised his fists to smash her face, and then the rest of the memories came back: snatching Anthony from the Senator’s house–his wife’s house–because that bitch wouldn’t give him visitation rights, not even one day.  The cops showing up way faster than he expected, Anthony screaming at him from the backseat, screaming Please Daddy I wanna go home! The pavement slick with rain and the car going into that uncontrolled spin, the approach of the lamppost at a terrifying speed.  The hospital, his wife’s cold face, her stupid fucking words: “Please, do whatever you can to help him.  To make him forget all this.  You people conditioned him to be like this. You people and your ‘spy training.’  You made him crazy. Fix it.” The restraints on his arms, the screaming, the raging words that were his own: “I’m not crazy!  I deserve to see him!  Let me see him!  Give me my son!”

Joe sagged over Agent Manning’s corpse, clutching his head.  He felt the warm trickle of something on his cheeks.  Touched them, to find blood.  More from his nose.  The sight of it made him laugh, and then he couldn’t stop laughing.

He staggered to his feet.  Wandered into the darkening night.

Anthony, he had to find him.

Had to find his son.



200 Words at a Time: Part Three

This week I’m continuing the story started by MWebster76 and continued by Michael D Woods!  Once again, this is for Chuck Wendig’s 200 Words at a Time challenge!  I kind of went over (240 words), oops…

Making Merry

Merry took a last, long drag on her cigarette before flicking it out the window. The butt skittered across the pavement, throwing a shower of sparks across the street. Nash always nagged her to quit, but Merry had always been more afraid of living than she was of dying. Her breath hung in the chill night air over the steering wheel. She pulled a wad of Starbucks napkins from the center console and wiped the fog from inside the windshield so she could get a better look at the neat suburban ranch.

It was a duplicate of every other house on the block. If she was drunk, she might have gone to the wrong house. But she wasn’t and besides, she knew this house. She knew the dormant lilac bush that shouldn’t have been planted so close to the front door. She knew each straw covered rose bush by name.

Merry had left the envelope with the bail money under her sister’s pillow early that morning before leaving for work. She hoped Melody wouldn’t find it and spend it, not realizing what it was for.

The porch light flicked on. It switched off, then on again. Once. Twice. Thrice. It was time.

* * *

Merry switched the headlights off and drove slowly past the house. The streetlamps along this stretch of road were busted and anyone standing near a window would have to look hard to catch a glimpse of the vehicle as it cruised by. Forty dollars well spent, contributing to the delinquency of rock-throwing teens be damned.

After parallel parking between a Saab and a BMW, Merry slouched deeper into the seat, reached to adjust the rear-view mirror and watched the house. Within minutes of the flickering porch light, three men climbed from nearby cars and walked up the sidewalk toward the front door. Merry edged forward, staring hard into the mirror. Was the fourth man already inside? It didn’t matter. If everything went as planned, come morning she would either be in jail or dead.

She slipped back down into the seat, pulled a pack of Winstons and a lighter from her purse. Merry lipped a cigarette from the pack and lit up. She took a deep pull, certain it would be her last, and held it briefly before exhaling a thick plume of smoke out the window. Only minutes to go.

“So good to see you,” said Nash, aiming a pistol at Merry’s head.

* * *

Merry barely blinked as she glanced at Nash’s face, all teeth in the narrow stripe of the rearview mirror.  She turned to face the gun, looking down the black hole of the barrel with a strange blankness.  She’d halfway hoped to feel something when this time came.  Some sort of fear of death. 

“Hey, lover,” she said.  She sucked in another mouthful of smoke.  “Thought I might see you.  Not alive, necessarily, but that’s nice too.”

Nash’s self-satisfied grin inched towards a sneer.  “Call them back, Merry.  I’m not kidding.”

“Nah.”  She shrugged, lazily, winking at the black eye of the gun.  She let the smoke escape through her teeth, watched Nash’s nostrils flare and his throat hitch as the white cloud enveloped him.  “They’re going to get back what you wouldn’t give me.  You could have made this easy on yourself, you know.  A whole lot easier.”

“It was five hundred bucks, Merry.  Jesus fucking Christ. Get over it.”

“Isn’t about the money.”  She leaned forward, inhaling, feeling the warmth of smoke down her throat, holding it in her lungs like some kind of dragon. 

“Then what?” Nash insisted.  He pressed the gun closer to her, until it was nearly touching her nose.  “Fucking pride?” 

That wasn’t really the answer, but she smiled and let out the lungful of smoke straight into his face as she said, “Yes.”  Then she found the knife in her pocket and slashed at him in the dark.