January. The old year has ended and the new year begins. So this month’s topic is beginnings and endings. As we’ve done over the past year, Janet and D. Z. have written two short, short stories. We hope you enjoy these very different takes on the subject.
Maybe the End
Maybe this would put an end to it. Or maybe not. But I had to find out.
The air was thick and damp. It was like stepping into a hot, wet washcloth. I’d had the same thought 40-plus years ago when I stepped off the plane at the Guam airport. Back then, I was a 20-something Navy journalist, fresh out of boot camp, arriving at my first duty station. I was a good deal older now, here to deal with some unfinished business.
I’d made a reservation at one of the Tumon Beach hotels, not far from the bare-bones apartment where I’d once lived. A lot of water under that bridge, I thought as I stood on the balcony and looked out at the turquoise waters below, breakers farther out on the reef.
I’d been keeping tabs on Guam for years. It was easy now, to read the news online. That was a far cry from those days in the past where I didn’t even have a phone and the television didn’t work half the time. I always wondered what Guam would look like after all these years. Now I was going to find out.
I was in Hawaii on business when one of my search engine alerts let me know that hikers found human bones scattered on a steep slope near the falls. Bones, but fortunately no skull that would show he’d been bludgeoned repeatedly with a wrench. But the rest of him, no, there wouldn’t be a mark on those bones. Four decades of heat, rain, and bugs had obliterated all the evidence, and nothing remained but smooth anonymous bone.
But I had to be sure.
I’d wrapped the wrench in my jacket and later dropped it off a cliff into the ocean. But I should have taken the watch after I killed him. Foolishly, I’d had it engraved, with his name and mine, before I gave it to him. After I pushed his lifeless body off the bluff, I was eager to put distance between me and the body. An end to a sorry chapter in my life. It was no more than the bastard deserved.
It wasn’t until I got back to my car that I remembered the watch. Evidence that could identify me. I had no time to go back and retrieve it. I was leaving Guam in two days. It was the end of my tour and I had orders stateside. Besides, I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by going back up the path, since I’d passed a group of hikers on the way down. When he didn’t show up for work the next day, questions were asked. But I was on my way out the door, gone before those questions could be directed at me.
The online article said the bones had been collected and the matter was being investigated. It didn’t say anything about items found with the remains. For all I knew, the watch could have been carried off by some animal. Or pocketed by some long-ago or recent hiker.
Why had I come all this way, chasing a chimera? And how would I find out what I needed to know?
I’m a journalist, after all. I could spin a yarn, saying I was working on a story. Why not tell the investigator I was writing about World War II remains? After all, there were plenty of relics on Guam, back then and probably now. I recalled the burnt-out hulks of tanks at the end of the reef, the unexploded bombs, grim souvenirs of war, and the battles that liberated the island.
As it happened, my story worked. The investigator was polite, somewhat disinterested. He confirmed that they’d found nothing that could identify the bones. Without the skull to tell them he’d been bludgeoned, without the watch to give them names, it was just an unidentified body, a case that would never be closed.
I just want to put an end to it, this nagging worry that had gone on for so long. But maybe I’ll be haunted till the end of my days by what I’d done, and the fear of discovery.
Maybe it will never end.
D. Z. Church
But for Warring Britons…
The television boomed as I wrapped Christmas presents. I don’t pretend to know what was on, only that Danes and Britons were warring. Mid-wrapping, my eyes snapped to the screen. A Briton, in period costume, face unwashed, scraggly beard, and leathers, a longbow drawn looked directly into the camera, his hazel eyes blazing and barked. “Now.” His longbowmen let fly.
I sat with a thud on my couch, the present I was wrapping clutched in my hands. I watched until someone called the character by name then waited through beheadings and bloodshed for the credits. When the character’s name scrolled by, I hit pause on the TV control. The screen jittered, though it may have been my heart. I wrote the actor and production company’s names down on scrap wrapping paper.
This was the first time I’d seen this actor, though his eyes and smile have haunted me since childhood. I grabbed my smartphone and googled Jason Lamb. No Wikipedia page, just a brief sketch on IMDB, age 26, and supporting roles in two additional cable shows.
I put a bow on the wrapped jewelry box in my hand as I had every Christmas since the State of New Hampshire whisked my younger brother away. I carried the box with me though foster homes to my forever home, adopted like a pet from the ASPCA and given a new surname. Meanwhile, social services lost my brother. His foster parents claimed he ran away to his sister. He had not. How could he, he had no idea where I was or even my new name, only that I cried out as they took him, clutching his hand then the sleeve of his coat then he was gone. He appeared on a milk carton and flyers in the Post Office. His case remained open; his foster parents forgiven. But Joey McDaniels was gone by eight.
I glanced at the one photograph I had of us. Eyes and smiles don’t change, not the color, not the lips, not the combo. And not the longing to hold him.
I binge watched the other two movies. The moment Jason Lamb appeared my gut wrenched. How could he have slipped so far from me.
Online, I searched for the production company’s email address. Finding it, I whipped out a message. I am a fan of Jason Lamb’s, I would like to ask him for an autographed picture, how might I contact him? I had little hope of a quick response.
I called Mom and asked her to watch the Dane and Briton program. She did then, called me back.
“Dana, honey, I don’t know. I never saw your Joey, except the one photograph. Twenty years, hon. That’s an awfully long time.”
“I know, Mom. But my gut…I…if I could touch him, I’d know. Even if he has forgotten me.”
“How could he forget you?”
“He was only six and scared.”
“You know Dad and I tried to locate him for years; it would have been so easy to raise the two of you. Oh, Dana, I hate to see your hopes up so high. They’ve been dashed so many times.”
“But Mom?” A message popped up on my computer. “Mom, the production company just got back to me with Jason Lamb’s agent’s phone number. I’m going to call.”
Mom sighed and hung up. I made the call then, my stomach in knots of anticipation, unwrapped the newly wrapped present. Inside the box was a Joey’s favorite little plastic sheep from our shared nativity set. To tease Joey, I had wrapped it as a stocking stuffer. The next day a truck demolished our parents out Christmas shopping. Soon, the authorities arrived. Our photograph and the sheep were my last touchstones to Joey with his wild hazel eyes, dark brows, and loopy, joyous smile.
The phone rang, I didn’t answer hoping for a message. An upbeat British accented voice said, “Oh, sorry, this is Jason Lamb. I understood from my agent that this was an urgent call.”
I grabbed the receiver, struggling to find words, managing, “Joey?”
Jason Lamb cleared his throat. Twice. A third time. “Dana?”
His joyous, swelling, riotous laugh pealed us back through time.
Viewing or Reading Recommendations:
I am eagerly awaiting season six of Outlander, the addictive series featuring history and time travel. The further adventures of Claire and Jamie Fraser are due on television in March. To catch up, I’ve been rereading the books and watching earlier seasons. Many of my ancestors came from the British Isles—I’m a mix of Scots, Irish, English, and Welsh—and they settled in eastern Kentucky. Family research even shows that one of them was indentured. The Outlander storyline of people who left the Highlands after the Rising of 1745 and made their way to the backcountry of the Carolinas before the American Revolution resonates with me.
Also due in March, the second movie based on Downton Abbey, another favorite. I watched all six seasons of this show when it was on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre and went to see the first movie the week it opened. I’ll be back when the second hits theaters. I don’t have anything in common with the wealthy and titled characters, but oh, the acting, the storylines, the costumes!
A break for the holiday? Well, it wasn’t intended that way. But sometimes it’s hard to focus on writing with everything else that’s going on. I took the Amtrak California Zephyr to Denver and did manage some writing. Though when I’m tucked up in my roomette on the train, I tend to read, nap, or simply look out at the beautiful scenery. Now that I’m home and back in my routine, I’m working on The Things We Keep, the next Jeri Howard book. I feel that I’m inching closer to completing the novel. I’d rather be making more progress than inches, but for now, I’ll take it!
D. Z. Church
Viewing or Reading Recommendations:
If you have never seen The Bishop’s Wife, the original with Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young, do. It is wonderful.
As for reading, hmmm, I kinda sorta took December off. I did see that a poll of New York Times readers voted To Kill a Mockingbird the most influential book of the last 125 years. To think all those agents and publishers initially passed on publishing it. No matter how you feel about the book since forced to read it in school, the language is poetry. And I challenge you to reread it as a crime novel.
My husband and I are currently binging the high school football series, Friday Night Lights. It all started while we were reminiscing about Kyle Chandler’s series debut in Tour of Duty, which Vietnam veterans claim is the best ever in presenting the ground war. Chandler only appears in the last season but is unforgettable as a new recruit joining a platoon that had been through hell six times over. I carry an image in my head of his character, having made it home, sitting in a field on his parents’ farm with his boyhood dog. Alas, Tour of Duty isn’t streaming. Anywhere. Mind you we have the series on disc and binge it about every three years.
I am taking a bit of a break after the publication of the fourth book, Don’t Tell, in the Cooper Quartet and for the holidays. That doesn’t mean I’m not writing; I am working diligently on my new series. I have this habit of writing at least the first two books in a series to ensure continuity. Which means, I have completed book one of my Wanee Series about the murderous doings in a booming Illinois prairie town in 1876. Book two is in progress and frustrating me greatly at the moment. The main problem is that book three’s murder and murderer have wormed their way into book two. I’m extracting the problem which is akin to pulling a wisdom tooth whose roots have grown into and around your jawbone. I will yank it out of there! Good news is, I have a bunch of usable text for book three.