Here are a few story lines I’ve begun. Enjoy, and leave your comments. Share your plot ideas.
A gray-haired man, dark furrowed skin, wrapped thick fingers around a mug handle carved of bone. The pinky went underneath. Heat from the cup penetrated deep into a calloused knuckle. The brew swirled slowly, hot silver spoon now resting atop a saucer. A whirlpool stumbled across the fluid’s surface, a toddler’s top spinning down. A white bubble bobbed close to the rim, a swimmer afraid to leave the pool’s edge. Its thin, cloudy surface fractured the winter morning light that streamed through a garden window, gleaming iridescent purple and fuchsia in a tiny oily orb. The swimmer braved a distance from the edge, into murky calm, then shot violently past the wandering whirlpool and slammed into the opposite side. There it clung, paralyzed by fear, then popped, the froth leaving no void for a headstone.
The mug touched numb lips, thin and tight. The other hand cupped around it, as in prayer. Rough elbows pointed upon a mahogany table top, the hard slab tung-oiled a half century earlier. The tree had been planted by a grandfather he never knew, then pruned and trained by saw and knife under his father’s eye. It had held his first treehouse at eight years old, hung a swing made from climbing rope and a crab pot buoy, and its tallest branch had held his weight as he peered through the neighbor’s window whist a youthful crush undressed. Ravaged by hurricane, but the old salt had recovered gracefully. Then a routine nor’easter had attacked its foundation, saturating hungry soil with rain. In the morning the joy of three generations lay dying atop the doghouse.
The man slid a bare palm across the boards’ satin surface. All was never lost.
His nose flared above the cup, filling his lungs till his chest stretched wide. Kona laced with cream and apricots warmed his nostrils. The air rushed back out, rippling the surface, tickling his nose, repelling the dying whirlpool to perish against far shores. Steam brushed the tips of his eyelashes, waving like fine dust in a sunbeam, watering his eyes.
He drew in the steamy potion. Cheeks dimpled at the full strength of the brew, warming his mouth. Oily tannins slid bitterly across his tongue and down his throat, heating his chest.
Out the window of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire cottage a cardinal dove off a paper birch like a cliff diver. Tucking its wings flat, it swooped low, flared, and shot across tall brown heads of grass, then out of sight below the sill. Suddenly, it popped back into view, grasping the bird feeder’s perch, scattering finches. Its bright red feathers ballooned and shook as it settled. Black mask wrapped across a red hood, tip bent in frigid wind.
What are you hiding behind that mask, fluttering around winter’s table?
It pecked ravenously at seed, scattering the sustenance in greed. Another alighted beside. A female. He scooted close, but with a flap and a peck, she drove him away.
The coffee heated the tip of his nose as he lifted the cup higher. Across the rim, peach blossoms in an antique thrown-glass vase bloomed proudly from pruned sprigs. An early heat the prior week had brought them out, now forgotten under six inches of frozen crust. He pushed the mug against his cheek, rolling it back and forth, enjoying the warmth. His tongue licked a corner of his mouth beyond a ridge of scar tissue, numb to sensation. But he could still feel the warmth of the mug, or the press of his wife’s lips, but not the razor’s nick when its blade wore dull.
Where had it gone, his youthful ambition? The clarity between red and black, right and wrong, friend and foe? Now enemies were violent cowards, a muddy brew of ideology, religion, and power. It was always power, wasn’t it? Who cared for it, but arrogant men?
Once he’d held it, only to find the cup empty. And now cowards threw innocent children from their tables to feed their own lusts.
The mug clanked onto mahogany. He grasped the table’s apron and pulled open a shallow drawer. Fingers rubbed oily steel. He gripped a Colt 1911 and racked in a magazine of 230 grain copper-jacketed hollow points. Today, at least, today, there would be one less red hood at the table.
A New Creation
Wendi knelt to concrete at a street corner and ran fingers below the sole of orange Nike cross trainers. Her thin ankle was stiffening, though she’d only walked a couple of miles from the bus stop. Last year in high school on the cross-country team she’d placed third in the division, but her legs weren’t used to the backpack strapped to her shoulders. A pink-painted fingernail grazed a protruding rock, wedged between treads, and she plucked it out. Now she could proceed in shadow, the pebble’s cadence against the sidewalk silenced, no longer to echo between the two-story facades lining either side of – she glanced at a thin sign glinting in moonlight atop a metal pole – Marker Street.
She straightened and brushed sandy grit from her knee. Paconake was nothing like she’d expected a beach town to be, the photos she’d seen online of Kitty Hawk and Mrytle Beach. Maybe she should have gotten a bus ticket to North Carolina instead. But having spent a month in Kansas studying maps of the coast, the Eastern Shore of Virginia had seemed secluded. Isolated. Less chance she’d have to talk with anyone. Drawing in a deep breath, she held it, savoring a hint of salt air, mixed with sulfur.
Glancing down a side street, a dim sign trimmed in neon rope glowed a purple B R. Oh, a bar. Its door opened and Irish music poured onto the road along with a fifty-something couple. Wendi had seen Irish bars in movies, but Hayes, Kansas only had clapboard sided dives with loud country music. The memory itched her throat. How she hated that western music scratch, cowboy boots, lifted trucks, and endless fields of corn. Maybe even tomorrow she’d find a beach, bury her feet in hot sand, and the rising tide would wash Kansas dust out to sea.
The couple walked a straight line, without even a stumble. He stooped and opened the door of a small gray BMW, smiling at his date’s bare legs as she turned them in. They backed slowly, avoided bumping a black and silver Range Rover parked behind, then pulled onto the empty street and sped away.
She glanced down the opposite side street. Where was a motel? The bus stop had only been a gas station. The lone attendant had been too busy to give directions, scurrying to check out passengers with drinks and chips and a few locals purchasing fuel with cash. Wendi had made a guess as to which road appeared most promising. Wrong again.
Across from the BR stood a two-story brick building, sides smooth and color dark, almost brown, in the faint moonlight. Outside walls were crowned with chunky dentil molding, like the shops on old TV shows where all the cars were antiques. Tall windows were boarded in plywood and small For Sale signs hung in each opening.
Drawn to its dark exterior, but sensing nothing sinister in the attraction, she skipped on light feet across the road and placed a palm upon its wall. Bricks were still warm from the sun’s heat, though it had set long ago. She closed her eyes, poured out her senses, and the surface grew hot.
Odd, she could perceive nothing in the recent past, even back five years. She strained all the harder, probing through the building’s history, like walking through a dark room with arms outstretched and waving. What the structure had seen, as far back as she had ever gone before. Then her mind smacked into something concrete. There was the past. Solid enough to hold substance. She clawed at it, but couldn’t penetrate the moment’s hard exterior to see beneath. It had been her experience the further back in time she probed, the harder details were to come.
Once at thirteen she’d sat on a tweed couch in their trailer to watch “Friends” on TV. She’s slipped her hands beneath her legs and instantly saw what her father had done on it just the week prior with… not Mom. Wendi had never exercised her sight since then.
Now, she patted warm bricks. No one knew her here. Whatever past this building held, it was its own. Not hers. Out here, she was anonymous. And nothing had occurred within these walls for at least twenty years.
She tilted her head back and peered forty feet up to the roof. Maybe there’d be a fire escape out back and she could sleep up there for the night. In the morning, she could spy which way to the water. It had to be close, she thought, again breathing salt-scented air. But why the hint of sulfur? Beaches don’t stink, do they? The night was warm, the high-pitch song of crickets and rhythmic bass of frogs sounded from all directions. She shrugged off an overstuffed backpack and stepped into a dirt alley behind the building.