Stories

     The Dilemma

    By Elise Brooke

           

 

 

Anthony gazed out the window into the night sky, his eyes set on that same star he’d always looked upon for the last twenty years.  The star that gave him hope, the brightest, it was her he knew deep down, he could feel her presence. Anthony had had the same face in his dream for the last twenty years, it was her.   

Anthony was a free spirit, a handsome man with wild curly dark blonde locks and eyes of a cool blue.  Work had become his life, it was all he knew these days, he was isolated and alone here on the rural Gisborne farm his parents had owned.  The farm was the only place he had known as home, but he knew there was more out there, he desired in his heart to find companionship. Today had been Anthony’s 37th birthday and still, his heart was empty, he was waiting for the one, waiting for her, he had almost given up the search.

His fear of leaving the farm and traveling has kept him restrained to this loneliness.  Ever since the car accident he was in when he was four years old, anxiety has prevented him from traveling in a car since.

Anthony’s scrolled through his mobile phone, his heart raced, it was her, the face in his dreams!   Her name was Samanther, she had golden amber-colored eyes, chocolate brown long wavy hair, rose-red lips, and pink blushed cheeks. He had to do something, for once in his life he knew he could not let her go and sent her a message.  Like an epic explosion their energy connects, she recognises him from her dreams too, without haste she messages him back.  

Anthony sat starring at his phone, it had been over a month now he and Samanther had been messaging.  They sent photos to each other, romantic pomes, spoke on the phone and now video call each other every night.  There was no doubt in his mind she was real, she told him she had fallen in love with him, and he was head of heels in love with her.

“What have I got to lose?”  He told himself.

Anthony steps outside looking over at the garage where his car was parked.

“All I need to do is jump in the car and drive, four hours later she will be in my arms.”  He tries to convince himself.

The car had been sitting in the garage untouched, ever since his father had passed away over a year ago and left it there,  Anthony had never even opened the garage door since.

“Ok, are you a man or a mouse?”  “Come on mate you can do this, one foot in front of the other,”  Anthony mutters in his head, as he approaches the garage door.

Samanther lay on her bed gazing at the ceiling, thinking of him.  He was on her mind, the first thing she thought about upon waking and the last thing at night.  

“Maybe I could borrow some money, fill the car with petrol, and leave now, I could be there by mid-day if I did.”

The words swam around her head.  Samanther too had a dilemma, her health was not good, long-travel would take a big toll on her body.  She was diagnosed with a terrible pain condition ten years ago, called fibromyalgia.

“I can handle the pain, I have pain killers, they help a little.”  Samanther tries to reason with herself.

“Once I see him all my stress and pain will melt away, it will all be worth it!”  She yells out loud.

“I want this so bad, I’ve been searching for him all my life.”  She sobs.

Frustrated as she knew her body would not cope well, angry as this seems so unfair and desperate for his touch.  She threw herself on the bed and cried.

Anthony stands outside the garage door, closer than he’d ever been in months.  His heart pounds hard, his hands are moist and shaky, his throat becomes dry making it hard to swallow.  Anthony places his hand on the garage door, freezing in fear.  His mind is cast back to the day of the accident.  Driving in the car, the rolling country hills, the smell of fresh-cut grass in the air. The huge trailer truck coming towards them, the truck crossing the centerline, the screeching of breaks.  The look of horror on his mother’s face, her blood-curdling scream. The car swerving hard as his father tried to miss the hit, the sound of breaking glass, the crushing of metal, and the deathly silence that followed.  His mother was killed that day, the memory has replayed ever since, haunting him.

Samanther stood in front of the mirror and dries her tears, her face tear-stained and red.

“It won’t hurt forever, I could do it, leave now, take the trip and suffer the consequences later.”

“At least I’d be in his arms!”  She thought

Anthony took out his phone, scrolling through messages and pictures of Samanther, he decides to overcome his demons, face his fears for the sake of true love, he refuses to lose her. He grasps his necklace tight, holding it close to his chest, he squeezes the pendant inhaling deep.  He ran his fingers across the turtle shape a sense of calm came over him, the necklace gave him strength when he was low, it helps him feel her presence everywhere he went.  She had brought it for him on her trip to Vanuatu, carved from a real turtle shell.  All he had to do was rub the turtle and he could feel the warm energy of her closeness.  He never took this necklace off, even in the shower, keeping it close to his heart.

 He lifts the roller door approaching the car, cobwebs covered the exterior, and dust cakes the paint job.  Anthony gets out the bucket and hose, he works on the car all afternoon till she shone and purred like a kitten.  He climbs inside, glancing in the rear view mirror he could see Samanther’s reflection, like she was right there with him, her presence pulling him to her.  Remembering his father’s few lessons around the paddock, bravely he pressed his foot on the accelerator and rolled down the drive.

Samanther packs a small bag, emergency supplies, cigarettes, and pain killers with a large bottle of water.  She opens her wallet, twenty dollars stares back at her,

“Well it’s enough to get me halfway,”  she sighs.

“Halfway is closer, I’ll go anyway, and worry about it later.”

As Anthony approaches the top of his long driveway he thought to himself,

“I’ll ring and tell her I’m on my way,” as he dials Samanther too dials Anthony’s number, the phone rings at the same time.

“Hi babe, I was ringing you too.” 

The connection they had built was unlike anything he had ever felt before.  It was as though they could read each other’s minds.  Typing the same message at the same time, feeling each other’s energy and emotions as if they were your own.  Samanther and Anthony were so in sync with each other.

 “My darling, I’m on my way to see you.” Gasps Anthony

“What!”  I’m on my way to see you too!”  Samanther cries.

“What about your health problem?”  “Babe it’s too much, I am concerned!”

“What about your fear of travel, the car, the accident?”

“I can do it, I can do it with you, I know you are here right beside me, you give me the strength and courage I need!”

“My darling I have to meet you.”  Anthony declares with vigor in his voice.

“I’ve already left, I’m on my way, I’ll deal with the pain later, I have to be with you.”

“I guess it’s too late now, look ill meet you halfway.”

“OK, it’s a deal, see you soon my love.”

The drive drags on for hours, much longer than it should have.  Anthony has to pull over three times as the panic and flash backs threaten his return home.  Samanther is suffering, pain radiates down her legs making her leg shake so bad she has to hold it tightly with one hand, still, she drives on.  Her neck is burning and her shoulders are heavy like two concrete blocks sat on top of her.

After four hours pass, Samanther reaches halfway mark and crawling into the petrol station, tank on empty.  She messages Anthony right away,

“Babe, I’m here waiting for you.”  She gushed

“I am at the petrol station where we agreed to meet.”

“Are you ok?”  “How far away are you?”

“I see you, I see your red car,”  Anthony spoke with excitement.

“I’m pulling into the station now.”

“I see you too babe, wow you look so handsome.” 

Samanther steps out of her car, standing in front of the bonnet, painfully pushing back all her hurts. She is in pain but there was no way she was going to admit it, not to herself or anyone, especially today.  Samanther had waited so long for this moment.  Despite the throbbing, and stabbing relentless pains hitting her like arrows from a bow.  Samanther refuses to let anything spoil this moment.  Anthony has brought color into Samanther’s dark world, she has spent years alone, healing from a traumatic course of events, and her diagnosed condition.

Anthony parks and opens the door to his dark blue sedan, he takes in a deep gulp of air as his eyes lay on the incredible stunning view of her beauty before him.  Pinching himself in case he was in a dream, he steps out of the car. As he opens the car door and steps outside, his heart began to race again, his knees shaking as he wobbles to his feet.  Anthony’s head is spinning, he thinks, what if Samanther does not like him after meeting face to face?  Would this trip be one big fail?  The fire burning in Anthony’s heart was not going out, Anthony had always been afraid to let anyone close, just like Samanther.  Now he knew if he fell it would be in her arms, he bravely walks towards her, heart jumping out of his chest.

Her gaze was only on him, the way he moves boldly stepping forward, yet his eyes show her he is just as scared as she.  They stood in front of each other starring taking in every detail, for a brief moment now, no one spoke. Samanther reaches out her hands, taking his hands in hers, squeezing them tight.  Even on their first touch, she could feel the difference, she had been plugged into her missing part, her conscious was merging with his.  All the nerves and doubts melt away, this feels so natural, peaceful, and right.  Samanther looks into Anthony’s eyes. Anthony squeezes her hands back, her smile fills him with joy lighting up her whole face.  He cannot contain these feelings bubbling inside him, he pulls her towards him, wrapping his arm around her waist looking into her eyes, back at her. 

“It is so wonderful to see you, to hold you and be with you.”  Anthony gushed.

“We finally, did it, babe, I’m in your arms.”  Samanther giggles.

“It feels so good being held by you, so right.”  She whispers in his ear.

Samanther and Anthony rent a little beachside cottage for the next week, it had a beautiful ocean view and one could hear the waves at night. They were halfway between houses in their own little paradise.

Samanther’s walls crumbled as the days sped by, hours seemed like minutes. Where ever they went together, lunch on the beach, coffee, picnics, or pancakes for breakfast, songs play that remind them of love, they had found their true love.  Anthony took Samanther shopping, spoiling her with gifts, he brought her an elegant red lace dress, and told her to wear it tonight.  Anthony became Samanther’s boyfriend, yes but so much more, they were best friends first.

“This is the first time I have ever worn something so flash and been taken to a romantic dinner by candlelight,”  Samanther told Anthony.

“I’m not used to being treated like this.”

“You deserve it, darling. I want to give you the world, every day I will show you how special you are to me, just to see you smile.”

“I’m not used to all this attention, people are looking babe.”

“People look because you are so beautiful darling, you are shining like a diamond.”

“I cannot believe how lucky I am.”

“Let them look, I only see you, Samanther.”

Samanther’s hurts and fears of her past still tried to haunt her, but with Anthony, he knew what to say and when.

Now a new dilemma enters Samanther’s head, were things moving too fast?  They had been together for three months now, her heart convinces her this feels so right.  Samanther had studies to return to, what was she to do?

A dilemma was on Anthony’s mind too, he would have to return to Gisborne soon for work. He did not want to be apart for a minute, who knows when the next trip would be, would it always be like this?  Samanther and Anthony felt the same, the plans to merge their worlds began, until these could be put in place it was sweet goodbyes for now.

Samanther and Anthony video called every night, technology meant it was a little easier to keep close.  To spice things up they would send parcels to each other, containing things to treasure that were special to the other.  Playlists of songs expressing their feelings for one another treats for her, and they would swap favorite books. Samanther’s best item was a t.shirt of his, it smelt like him, she slept with it under her pillow at night to feel like he was there with her.  Samanther had sent Anthony her nightie, he could smell her on it and also slept with it.  They kept each other’s voice recordings to play whenever they could not call.  Samanther covered her screen saver with a collage of his face and smile. 

Two months pass now as Anthony sat in his lonely single bed thinking of her.  His bedroom and the rest of the house was in desperate need of a women’s touch, a new look, still bearing the seventies-era style.  Bright orange and brown floral wallpaper, fluorescent yellow curtains, and dark green shaggy carpet.  I want her here with me, in this house, in my bed close to me, I need to be with her.  Anthony masters a plan, no longer paralyzed with anxiety, driven by his belief in her, in them. 

Samanther returns home from her best friend’s wedding this weekend, still adorning her gorgeous, purple lace, brides maids dress, the whole day had been emotional and romantic, she misses Anthony so much.  Samanther’s tiny little flat was a dark cave, not many windows to let in light, a downstairs basement converted into a self-contained garage, dark and gloomy.

Anthony had planned this all week, Samie’s daughter had helped him.  Samie enters the bedroom turning on the lamp and there he was, laid out on her bed, covered in red rose petals, just rose petals.

“Oh, babe what a wonderful surprise, I missed you so much!”

Samanther walks with seduction over to the bed, she sat on the bed next to Anthony, removing her black high heels, revealing her lace top stockings.  He sat leaning towards her, brushing her hair aside, placing tiny little kisses down the back of her neck with tender precision, he inhales her sweet perfume. She turns her face to him, they kiss slowly and intimately, each touch so thrilling.  He untie the corset dress, unlacing each strand of ribbon bit by bit, her skin rises in goosebumps as he exposes her back inch by inch, until the dress slid from her shoulders.  This night was overdue, they spent the whole night expressing in the physical their love for each other, till the morning sun peeps through the curtains.  The next morning as they share a buffet breakfast in Samanther’s back yard, they spoke of their dreams have come true, of falling like the star he’d gazed upon, deeper in love with each other, partners ready to face the battles of the world together.

Anthony told Samanther in detail about the day of the crash and his mother’s death, he opens to her like no one else ever, it was emotional with a lot of tears, Samie held him close while he told her how she helps him, without even knowing it to over come his anxiety and to leave the farm and even drive.  Samanther too opens to Anthony too, she told him why she remained guarded for so long, the effects of having been in an abusive past relationship, how this had almost caused her to give up on love.  He looked her straight in the eye, with solemn sincerity he declared his promise to always and forever treat her right.  They completed each other, no longer alone, bringing out the best in each other, united as friends, bonded in love.

It was another four months before Samanther finishes her writing degree and is looking for writing work, this would be much better on her health than her nursing job.  Samanther got a perfect job offer, working for a local magazine writing romance stories, this was her forte at present, Anthony had become her muse too,  the best part was the job was in Gisborne! Samanther decides to wait for Anthony’s visit this weekend before she would tell him the news as a surprise

Anthony too had been working on a surprise of his own, a big surprise, the biggest surprise of his life.  This weekend would mark the beginning of the rest of his life, the rest of her life, and their life.  Anthony was calm but scared he knew this was the right thing to do, the right time to do it and there was no way he was letting her go.  He scrolls through her pictures on his phone when a notification pops up, Samie has changed her cover photo on Facebook.  Anthony was curious as previously the picture was of them on the beach, why would she change it?  As he clicks onto the notification the screen reveals the photo,  he inhales sharply.  The picture was of a distinct dark blue evening dress, with glitter and jewels,  the kind Cinderella wore in the fairy tale with the sweetheart neckline and flowing skirt, but dark blue.  Anthony messages Samie right away,

“Where did you see that dress?”

“Oh, I spotted it on a site, it is my dream dress,”  Samie told him.

“Well, babe the dress is the exact same dress you wore in my dreams when I’d dream of you before we meet!”

“Oh, wow isn’t that amazing hun.”

Taking this as another sign the universe was pulling them together, Anthony was ready now more than ever to move ahead.

The weekend finally arrived, Samanther arrives in Gisborne, as the evening came on Anthony and Samanther stop at the chip shop before heading to the beach.  Anthony unbuttons his shirt, removing it and began rolling it, Samanther looks at him with excitement and interest in her eyes. 

“I want to surprise you, you are going to love this spot babe.”

He ties the shirt around her head, covering her eyes tight, they drove for a good ten minutes, before the car came to a stop and the engine switches off.

“Babe, are you ready?”

“I’m ready.”  Samanther giggles.

Anthony leans over untying the shirt, pulling it away, he took her hand in his.

“Open your eye darling.”

Samanther’s mouth drops open, she stares in awe at the glorious beauty.  The sun in its amber hue was setting over turquoise waters, deep purples and blues danced across the waters rippled surface.  The moon was peeping from behind distant hill top views, its golden glow warming the light.

“This is “Golden Sands  beach,” darling.”

“It is gorgeous, I can see why it is your favorite spot.”

Taking the chips wrapped in newspaper with them, they sat on the sand dunes eating their dinner.  Anthony reaches into his pocket, is now a good time he thought? He pats the pocket with love.

“I cannot wait any longer!”  Exclaims Samanther.

“I have to tell you my good news.”

Anthony pushed the small box back into his pocket.

“Tell me, darling, I’m listening.”

“I have been offered a job!”

“Really, that’s wonderful babe.”

“Yes but, you haven’t heard the best part!”

“It’s right here in Gisborne babe!”

“You’re kidding, what, are you for real?!”

Anthony grabs Samanther in his arms pulling her towards him, he took her face in his hands and kisses her with passion on the lips.  They roll over in the sand laughing, so happy, kissing and hugging each other.  Anthony stops, looking at Samanther with a serious look on his face.

“What is it, hun?”

Anthony stood, he held his hand out pulling Samanther to her feet, holding her hands in his.

“Samie, ever since I’ve met you it is like the stars have aligned, there is no doubt in my heart or mind you are my true love.”

“You are my place of refuge, my strength darling.”

Samanther watches him her heart beating out of her chest, she could feel it coming, and he knew it.  Anthony got on one knee, he pulls out the velvet box from his pocket, and opens it, the gemstones sparkle in the moonlight as he spoke.

“My darling Samanther, I love you with everything I am, will you please spend the rest of your life with me?”

“Will you Marry me?”

Without hesitation, Samanther drops to her knees too, wrapping him in a tight embrace

“Yes, yes, yes!  I’ll Marry you.”

My Circle of life

A defining moment

By Elise Brooke

 

I had waited and waited to bring up a family of my own first finally at age forty it was happening…

Mesmerizing pictures of animals and breath-taking scenery fill my screen as I gaze in awe. I have wanted to see South Africa ever since mum told me about her home when I was only four years old. Goosebumps tingle my skin as I recall her voice.

I discover an organization called Kuwantu looking for volunteers to work on their Big Five game reserve in exchange they provide accommodation and food. Paperwork and applications complete, I pack my 10kg backpack and board a plane with a thirty-hour journey ahead.

I have to disturb an uppity lady next to me every time my mummy's bladder urges or my legs swell up. The lights are all switched off for sleeping, only people's screens can be seen. The uppity lady returns to her seat she stops and staring for a bit,

“Are you ok?” I ask.

Her face turns pale and ghostlike. I take off my seat belt and reach for her she falls backward her eyes roll into the back of her head. She slips from my grasp, collapsing in the aisle. I now cannot get past her to get help and panic,

“Is she breathing?” I think.

Flicking my reading light on and off rapidly like an SOS got the attention of two air hostesses who crawled out of the darkness. They attended to the lady, and she regained consciousness. For the rest of the flight, she was not so uppity to me. Even showing me the upstairs terminals on arrival in Johannesburg.

I step off the plane into daylight; the heat smacks me in the face. At first, I have trouble breathing, gasping until my lungs adjust. Entering a pokey little airport, all I can smell is sweat, no air conditioning here. The next is a spice smell coming from the food court. My mouth drools at the thought of a decent meal.

Port Elizabeth my mother’s hometown is coastal similar to Tauranga except more industrious. Vast mountains, bushland, and jungle can be seen in the distance on rolling green hills like New Zealand. Only Harsh dry dessert, not a sheep or cow in sight. A ten-minute drive from the airport and I am warmly welcomed by the staff at my accommodation. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m out like a light I have not slept for thirty hours.

The next day the other volunteers from the U. K and Denmark arrive. Students doing their “Gap” year from Belgium, Sweden, and Germany also join me.

I’m discovering a lot of monkeys around here. Not the least bit afraid of stealing anything that takes their fancy.

Our guide takes us an hour and a half drive, arriving at Kuwantu at six O’clock at night. We have basic meals here of rice, salad, and a meat dish with chutney. Breakfasts are eggs of some form, beans, sausages, and toast or cereal and fruit.

Our accommodations are very simple: volunteers slept together in dorm-style cabins on bunks. The shower and loos are a five-minute walk away. After checking under my bed for snakes and hoping our room did not have bats in the roof as the boys' room, I sleep on and off on a hard mattress.

I wake to the most memorable, wonderful sounds. Birds of numerous varieties and insects. My favourite the lions and tigers from the rehab shelter roaring talking to each other.

It is the end of the African summer, despite that temperatures still reach over forty degrees during the peak of the day, plummeting to a bitter below zero at night. Unpredictable rains burst through the clouds, turning into thunderstorms fast. One has to dress and prepare for all.

The nights here are pitch black one cannot see their hand in front of their face. The sparse skies give a glittering display of stars I did not even know existed, and the sunsets/sunrises are still the best I’ve ever seen.

The excitement we’d all been waiting for our first game drive. I am both amazed, scared, and in total wonderment as we bounce around the reserve getting a bush massage as the driver calls it (all the bumps and jolts).

I see a jackal first, zebra, rhinos, springbuck, and lots of birds, such a glorious sight ingrained in my memory. Next, we see giant termite mounds meters tall, wilder beasts, giraffe, hippos, a family of elephants with a baby calf, mongoose, buffalo, warthogs, peahens, and starlings with their vibrant jade and green feathers.

We have to obey strict rules for our safety by staying inside the truck, arms still, voices down and seated at all times.

They take us to the rehabilitation shelter where animals recovering from injury or being bred are kept before being rehabilitated into the wild. Here we meet the white lions, tigers, and cheetahs.

Thursdays we go to the school to feed the children. The rest of our work consists of fence clearing (digging up long grass with a spade along fence lines), vegetation control (chopping down cactus with machetes), mending fences, tree chopping, and road maintenance (breaking up concrete with pickaxes).

The equipment we use is poorly maintained and often dangerous. Work is expected to be carried out the traditional way using old-fashioned techniques. They do not provide gloves many of us have long cactus needles stabbing in our arms and hands. I have blisters the size of two-dollar coins on my palms which sting and bleed.

A volunteer's blade flies off the handle of his machete it rebounds hitting the cactus in front of him before embedding itself in his shine leaving a nasty gash they take him to hospital.

It is frightening doing fence clearing amongst the lions roaming as the electric fence must be disabled. They train guides to keep watch for any lions or beasts. At a moment’s notice, a whistle meant to get your ass in the truck now or be the lion's lunch.

We work with plants in the nursery planting these in the bush. We help count the animals weekly to keep track of numbers. We hand-feed baby orphaned monkeys from Brazil, and a brilliant Makor takes a shine to me.

A herd of elephants pulls an elephant out of a large hole she fell into, breaking her leg. The elephants stay by her side protecting her, knowing she is vulnerable until she is well.

An elephant gives me the pleasure of visiting up to the fence behind our cabin. A magnificent bull male tusks protruding a meter out in front.

The local vet needs our help this afternoon we follow him into the bush to tranquilize and capture a lioness. She needs to be moved to another part of the reserve to even out the predator game ratio, as too many Impalas are being eaten here.

It takes hours to find her the vet darts her it takes ten minutes before she goes down. We wait for the vet to be the first to check she is asleep, then load her into a cage and onto the trailer. A very surreal experience being up close and personal with the Queen of the jungle. Touching her rough fur and feeling her warm breath. She is much bigger than I expect to close up one of her paws is the same size as both my hands spread out.

The whole time we attend to the lioness we are very aware we are surrounded by all eyes of the jungle.  I count nine lions from the pride, including males hiding in the bush. Bones crunch under my feet as I walk across their feeding grounds back to the safety of the truck.

My experience working with these animals, the change of pace, the way of life, the people I met, and conversations have all affected my thinking, changing my life from here on.

I have space, quiet, and stillness to hear my heart. I feel happiness experiencing my motherland; I feel a connection and a part of it. This makes me realize how happy I could be when following my heart. I realize I have not been happy for a long time.

Africa shows me how brief life is in the jungle. Upon landing back in New Zealand, I make big life changes to be happy now, not later.

I quit my nursing job of eighteen years. Write two books about my life journey, complete a Creative Writing Diploma and fulfill my dream of a writing career.

I absolutely recommend this experience to others. Do whatever it takes do it now fulfill your dreams and never stop dreaming.

 

 

Elise Brooke© 

The homemakers

By Elise Brooke

 

It was the first day of spring and it promised to be a fine day. Dennis thought that he would turn over the compost heap in his garden, a task which he deemed necessary, but one that he did not relish. However, he made up his mind to do this task in order to have some good compost ready for the coming season's planting.

The compost heap was tucked away, out of sight of the house, behind the old rhododendron bush. As Dennis approached the bush, carrying his garden fork across his shoulder, there were loud calls of protestation emitting from the bush. He paused to see what the fuss was about and was confronted by an agitated-looking female blackbird, feathers ruffled and trying for all her worth to look as ferocious as she could. Dennis, who was fond of nature in all its forms, concluded that she was trying to attract his attention away from her nest, which she must have built in the rhododendron.

Carefully skirting the bush as not to make too much disturbance, Dennis approached the compost heap and commenced his set task. Whilst he was digging, he was approached by the male blackbird, who seemed much more precocious than did his mate. The male blackbird hopped around, keeping some two meters or so away from where Dennis was digging. Now and then, Dennis uncovered an earthworm and he would throw it out to the bird.  The blackbird devoured those with obvious relish.

Before long they were joined by the female blackbird, who seemed a little shyer than did her mate.  Whilst she busily hoped around at a distance of about three meters, her mate ventured closer and closer to Dennis.  So close did he approach, in fact, at times that Dennis thought that he was in danger of being dug into the heap.

The digging operation did not proceed very rapidly, partly due to Dennis’s age reducing his store of stamina somewhat, and also due to the interest, he found watching his two newfound feathered friends. The task was only half completed before his wife called him for dinner. Picking up a sharp piece of wood which he found near the heap, Dennis scrapped the excess soil off his fork and bade his friends adieu.

Before he left the area, Dennis carefully looked into the bush and, sure enough, there was the nest with four eggs in it, on a branch just high enough to avoid the easy access to any marauding cats that might venture along.

The following two days were wet, and Dennis was unable to resume his task, but he wondered how the birds were getting along. So it was with great enthusiasm that, on the third day, he set off to resume the work. 

When he approached the rhododendron bush he was greeted enthusiastically by the precocious male bird who hopped along close to his feet. Dennis could not resist a little peek into the bush to see if there were any signs of progress. Sure enough, there was the nest and there was the mother bird sitting in its midst. Then he looked again. Yes, he could see two little fluffy heads poking out from beneath her wings. The eggs must be hatching! Now the birds would need an even larger supply of tasty, juicy worms to feed their youngsters!

He set to work again, digging the rest of the compost heap, and throwing the worms to the eagerly awaiting birds.  First, it was the male who was doing the collecting, but soon he disappeared into the bush and the female took his place. This time she seemed less timid, but still not so trusting as her mate was.

After a while, she disappeared and her mate returned, and so it went on. Dennis continued digging long after the heap had all been turned over, and the birds kept returning for more. This procedure continued for the next two weeks or more. Dennis finding more ground to dig up for worms, and the birds collecting them as fast as he could find them.  They made a great team, and each day, before he returned to the house, Dennis would very carefully inspect the nest to check on the progress of the family. The little chicks seemed to grow larger each day, and Dennis felt quite proud to be helping with the rearing of them.

At last, the chicks began to grow their feathers and Denis knew that before long they would be leaving the nest to face life alone. But still, he kept up his faithful task, diligently as often as he could, and the parents kept on coming for more and more.

Eventually, the fateful day arrived, and the chicks were no longer in the nest. They had found their wings and gone off to pastures new. The parent birds still hung around for a while, for anything that Dennis could find, but eventually, even their enthusiasm seemed to wane. So Dennis gave up his efforts and decided that enough was enough. He decided that the adults could scratch for their own food now; the family had been successfully cared for. 

Life didn’t seem quite the same after that. Some glitter and challenge had gone out of it, somehow. But that is nature, he thought. He was pleased, however, when the following spring approached and the activity began again in the old rhododendron bush. He had a new compost heap now and a new supply of worms.

 

Elise Brooke©

Hidden Agenda

By E.Brooke

In the basement of an abandoned mansion high in the Hollywood hills, she knelt. Her body draining of all its blood lay in a sticky heap. A rifle is perched under her chin, the barrel embedded through her shattered jaw bone. Her body is slumped lifelessly over the gun. Her head hangs forward a huge gaping hole exposes her jellied brain tissue.  The gooey, blooded slop spills onto the hard concrete floor. Rats are nibbling at her cold flesh.

“I, I, I need to report a murder.” A young female shakily spoke.

“Number 1124 Madison Drive, Hollywood Hills.” The female quickly speaks, then hangs up the phone.

Detective Mahoney descends the stairs into the split basement, the temperature drops, goosebumps rise as she opens the door to the first room. Surrounding the room are large flat-screen televisions, computers, video and recording equipment. In the center of all this is a black, metal-framed bed, chains dangling from the frame.

“Gather the evidence.” Mahony snaps to the officers.

As she moves into the next room, an officer stops her, holding her back.

“You do not want to go in there Miss, it’s a terrible sight. Leave it to us boys.”

Mahony pushes him aside, giving him a jet black stare for being so sexiest. The room is lined with rows of chairs, like a classroom set up in front of more gigantic flat screens. One of the screens still has a small flashing red light glowing. Tied to the chairs are bodies, ankles tethered to chair legs, arms behind their backs, hands handcuffed to the back of the chair. The chairs have a headrest with a brace strapping their heads tight, unable to look anywhere but straight ahead. Each corpse has been shot point black in the forehead. Blood splatters the surroundings, bits of skull and flesh hang off the chairs and even the ceiling. Mahony has to run from the room for a bit as nausea gets the better of her. She spills her guts behind the door before going back in.

In the room's front there she is on her knees slumped over the barrel of a rifle. The smell is overpowering they must have been here for days. Forensics Id the bodies one by one, starting with the young girl on the floor in the front.  Jenifer Law had been missing for over a week. A loud crash comes from the kitchen, everyone jumps in fright, looking towards the sound.

“What the fuck was that!” Mahony yells.

“Stay where you are!”

“Don’t move!”

The squad aims their guns at a corner of the pantry floor. A sick, fragile figure sits hugging his legs, slowly rocking back and forth, softly humming a familiar tune. He appears to be in a trance-like state repeating to himself over and over,

“It was the right thing to do?”

“It was the right thing to do!”

Mr. Ploughman has surrounded himself with pictures of another young woman, she has long oily jet black hair, acne has invaded her face and she looks sad. More than sad, like she was lost in her darkness. He gathers the photographs, holding them close to his chest. His beady eyes dart about, terrified of his fate. Immediately the officers cuff him hard, pulling him to his feet as they drag him to the car. Arriving at the station, Mr. Ploughman is hauled out of the police car and led into the police station by an officer on either side.

“She had it coming!”

“She deserves everything she got!”

“They all did!” Mr. Ploughman’s hatred is clear.

“Selfish, entitled, ungrateful, spoilt little brats.”

 

“They are all the same, her and her kind.”

The huge beefy officers force Mr. Ploughman to sit, pushing hard on his shoulders. Mahony enters the room, ununiformed, dressed in a black and red power suit. She had mousy brown hair, black-framed glasses, and piercing green eyes. For a moment, Mr. Ploughman and the officers are captivated by her distracting beauty.

“What were you doing at the scene of a crime, Mr. Ploughman?”

“I hope she is rotting in hell for what she did!” Mr. Ploughman continues to ramble.

“It is better than any of her kind deserves.”

“I blame her!

 

She did not pull the trigger, but she cocked and loaded the gun, holding it to her chest!”

Mr. Ploughman’s face turns beetroot red. He waves his finger at Mahony.

With that he slams his head on the desktop, knocking himself unconscious, a thick trail of blood oozes from his forehead.

“Call the doctor!” Mahony yelled at the closest officer.

The doctor examines Mr. Ploughman with great curiosity and caution, attending to his wound. Suddenly Mr. Ploughman rouses, grabbing the doctor's face in his hands and pulling him close,

“I will not rest until all her kind are rotting in hell with her.”

The officers intervene, freeing the doctor from Ploughman’s grasp. The doctor makes a hasty exit, tripping over a chair as he leaves. At the door, he turns to Mahony.

“In my professional opinion mam, that man is dangerous he is insane! "

 

"Get me out of here now.”

Mahony sighs an exasperated gasp, steeling herself she looks directly into Ploughman’s eyes, pressing record on the video camera she continues.

“What is her kind, Mr. Ploughman?” She calmly asks.

Mahony edged her glasses to the tip of her nose, crosses her legs seductively, waiting for Mr. Ploughman’s response.

“They are everywhere. She brought some of them with her.” His rambling continues.

“She calls them her followers."

“They are all together now.”

“Mr. Ploughman, what have you done!”

“I told you, I sent them to hell ha, ha, ha!”

“Are you admitting to murder Mr. Ploughman?”

“Oh, now that would make your job easy now, wouldn’t it?” Ploughman scowls.

“You didn’t do your job when she needed you the most!”

“You pigs are all the same.”

“Now who are you talking about, you are not making any sense, Mr. Ploughman.” Mahony is getting impatient.

Mr. Ploughman is increasingly agitated, he tries to stand the officers push him back on his seat he throws himself backward slamming the back of his head into the wall behind him; he is knocked out cold for a good twenty minutes as officers try to revive him.

“Amanda Ploughman! She was my sister, you know, the only one I ever had!” Mr. Ploughman’s voice is quiet now, almost a whisper.

“She told you many times what was going on, the threats, the bullying, the harassment. The insults cut her gentle heart wide open and the relentless trolling torture. She lost her mind.”

 

“She told me I am crazy, but it is she who’s mind has gone.” 

“Ha, I showed them first-hand the meaning of torture.” Ploughman is yelling.

“You did nothing for her, NOTHING!”

“And now she’s gone!” Ploughman’s voice fades away.

“She haunts me still.”

Mr. Ploughman holds his head in his hands, sobbing loudly. He is suddenly silent again. He wraps his arms around himself, rocking back and forth in his chair, staring with intensity at the detective's long legs.

“What happened to your sister, Mr. Ploughman?” Mahony’s voice is soft and gentle.

Enraged by these comments, Mr. Ploughman jumps to his feet, grabbing his chair and hurling it onto the table in front. The plastic chair shatters, spinning shards of sharp plastic into the air. Two more officers enter the room taking hold of Mr. Ploughman one arm each.

“Even now she is still forgotten and swept under your matt!” Ploughman screams at Mahony.

Mr. Ploughman spat at the officer to his right, landing a phlegmy glob right in his eye. Mahony is rattled, but she has seen this kind of behavior before. How can you avoid it after 18 years in the force? One of the officers is furiously typing away on a computer…. Ploughman, Amanda.

“Yes, here it is, your sister, Amanda, I see she tragically died last October, says here suspected suicide.”

The officer flashes a screen in front of Mahony. Mahony is quiet as she takes in all the details of his sister's suicide video. 

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Ploughman.”

“So now are you ready to listen? Ploughman looks Mahony straight in the eyes and begins,

 “Just as she lured Amanda into her fake world, I created a world of my own to show her.”

“I befriended Jennifer online she thought I was quite a catch, boasting about how she had scored this “drop-dead gorgeous rich man.” Her shallowness sickened me!” “That’s all they care about, how they look, flash cars, latest fashions and money, money, money! You know the kind silver spoon in their mouth, superficial, popular, pretty but so nasty and internet famous too.” “Jennifer rubbed this in Amanda’s face, she started a hate Amanda page.”  “That stuff is what killed Amanda, she felt she was never good enough for Jennifer and her followers, all she wanted was to be liked. She fell into a deep depression, lost her job, her friends, and her will to live. The trolls celebrated making her famous after her death, the video went viral thanks to Jennifer”.  

“I invited her to meet with me at my mansion, enticing her with my riches. She took the bait, swallowed it hook line and sinker.”

“Jennifer and all she influenced must be stopped!”

“I made them feel at home nice and comfortable, homemade fruit punch was all it took, spiked of course.  It is not enough that they die, they need to experience the torture and suffer as they did to my Amanda online!”

“I separate the Queen from her servants, exposing her for the weak retched soul she truly was.  I chained her to the bed. It took exactly three days before she broke. I forced her to read every comment posted, look at every picture over and over again. I pinned her eyes open, so she did not miss a thing.”

“When I thought she was ready, I played her the video of Amanda. She watched it again and again, the pleading, the tears, the gun, and finally the shot. I play the same video to her servants in the next room too, I did not want anyone to miss out.” 

“I guess the brainwash worked. She is weaker than I thought the guilt consumed her. It turned out better than I could ever have planned. I could tell she now understood what she had done. She admitted she killed Amanda.  I recorded it for all her loyal followers to see and I posted the video on every social media site I could think of, live streaming to all.” “I waited while she read all the comments in response, letting her absorb it all.” 

“Her bullying ways now exposed, named, and shamed, no more hiding behind a keyboard! The pleasure I got was the look on her face as all these so-called loyal followers turned against her and her world crumbled before her.”

“Now she knows how Amanda felt!”

“This whole horror story started online, and now it will end online.”

“What do you mean ‘it will end online’? Mahony managed to get a word in.

“You are not as observant as I would have thought detective, the light was flashing red.”

“I have not finished!”

“Please continue Mr. Ploughman.”

“In the end, she knew what to do. She did the right thing. I did not have to kill her, I did not kill any of them!”

“She took the rifle from my hands, went straight into the next room, stood in front of her students like a teacher in class. With a blank stare, she pulls the trigger, shooting a follower point-blank in the forehead. Cocking the barrel, reloading, she repeats this until they are all dead. Then she did the kindest thing she could to make up for what she did. She knelt before her dead kingdom, placed the gun under her chin.”

“Looking at me she says, ‘tell Amanda I’m so sorry.”

“Tell her yourself!” I told her.

"She pulls the trigger.”

“Take him away.” Mahony urges the officers.

“Wait, I’m not guilty, I did not kill her!”

“You can’t do this! Let me go!” Mr. Ploughman cries.

“Wait!”

The officers walk Mr. Ploughman to his cell. He turns around and laughs hysterically.

“The little red light glows so brightly, yet no one sees it.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha! Go online now and you will see the rest.” 

“It’s all there for the world and that judge to see, I have not lied and I am innocent of murder! No courtroom can deny me my freedom, you will see.”

 “Go online and you will see.” Ploughman’s last words echo in Mahony’s ear.

She pulls out her laptop and searching; it is not long before she finds Jenifer’s posts, her social media accounts, and fan page.  At the corner of the screen is a picture of a devil cartoon character. Frustrated as nothing seems to give her any more clues, she slams her laptop shut. 

“Beep, beep, beep.” 

The beeping continues driving her nuts, she can’t think straight. Angrily she flips open the laptop, Jenifer’s fan page is still on screen and the picture of the devil cartoon is now glowing red. Mahony places her mouse over the devil's character and clicks twice. Her computer flashes green and red as the screen goes black.

“Oh, shit, it must be a virus, I’ll call IT.”  Mahony grumbles.

As Mahony picks up the phone, she turns to look at the screen. A play button is now in the middle. Mahony hangs up the phone, leans in close, and presses play. The footage is back in the mansion, as Ploughman had said he’d recorded the whole grizzly three days for all to see. Mahony watches the video over the next hours, the events play out exactly as Ploughman re-laid. All of a sudden Mahony double-takes, rewinds, pressing play she sees a woman in the room with Ploughman before Jennifer shoots herself. Zooming in on the figure and enlarging the image. The woman is a young female, with dark black hair, she looks familiar to Mahony. Mahony stares at the screen, trying to recall where she had seen this woman before.

Knock, knock

“Sorry to bother you, mam, here is the evidence we have collected so far against Ploughman.” The constable places a folder on the desk in front of Mahony.

“I want you to go back to the mansion, find out where this creep has been filming and put an end to it, close the door behind you.” Mahony hissed.

She opens the folder and the first thing that falls out onto her desk are the photos Mr. Ploughman was holding. Mahony gasps, she looks at the screen; she looks at the pictures back and forth, it can’t be! The girl on the screen looks exactly like the girl in the photos, Amanda?

“Does this mean she is still alive?” Mahony’s head pounded.

Ring, ring

“Mahony speaking.”

“Mam, you need to get over here, I cannot explain it you must come and see for yourself, you would not believe me!” The constable was clearly shaken.

Mahony sped off in her drop-top convertible back to the mansion, the constable had a woman handcuffed to a chair on Mahony’s arrival. As soon as Mahony saw her, she knew who she was.

“Amanda, it is you.” Mahony looks confused.

“But your brother said…”

“Yeah, I know what he said, you can’t take anything he says seriously, you know he is full-blown crazy, right!” Amanda mocks.

“My brother escaped the custody of St Peters mental institution over a week ago, I came here in hopes of finding him and bringing him back.” Amanda continued.

“He told us you were dead!” Mahony replied.

“I did die for a whole thirty minutes, the bullet did not hit any vital organs therefore I survived.” Amanda sobs.

“But I could not convince him I was alive. He has been stuck in his own world ever since, nobody can get through to him, he’s not well you know.”

“Do you know what happened to Jennifer Law and her followers?” Mahony questions.

“Oh yes, I watched the whole thing, I was in the room when it happened.” Amanda’s face went dark.

“I tried to stop him but…”

“WAIT! You were the woman in the video, you were right in the room when Jennifer…” 

Amanda’s face turns white,

“So you have seen the video,” she hangs her head.

“You cannot blame him he did not know what he was doing, after all, he is insane.” “She deserved to die, they all did!” Amanda cried.

Mahony interrupts, “You, on the other hand, Amanda, appear to know exactly what you are doing.”

“Amanda Ploughman, I’m placing you under arrest for the suspected murder of Jennifer Law and her followers.” Mahony leads Amanda to the police car.

“How can this be!” Amanda kicks and screams as the car drives away.

Back at the police station after hours of questioning and interrogation, Amanda breaks down.

“I couldn’t let her get away with it, I knew he wouldn’t have the guts.”

“He is crazy but harmless, but they don’t throw people like him into jail. No, the judge would give him a holiday free board and lodging in the maximum-security hospital wing.”

“Imagine what would happen to a woman like me in your jails?”

 

“It was my only option!”

 

“I did not know the fool was recording.”

“I told her to pull the trigger on those followers and herself, my gun at the back of her skull made sure of it. Either that or I’d have to do the messy part myself.”

“Now I am free of her, she cannot hurt anyone else.” 

“I went back there to destroy the footage, but he has wrecked everything. The whole thing was being streamed live.” “Now everyone can see for themselves what happened, they can see me and so did you all!”

“And if you think I am sorry after what she did to destroy my life, you are sadly mistaken!”

Later that evening Mr. Ploughman was attacked and beaten to death by a cellmate who called himself Jenz. He considered himself a super fan willing to die for Jennifer’s sake; he dressed like her, wore his hair like her, and now had got his revenge for her death.

Amanda, on the other hand, her suffering did not end quite as quickly.  The judge found her guilty of manslaughter and coercion she was given ten consecutive life sentences, Amanda would die before she ever tasted freedom ever again.

Elise Brooke

Promotion

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