A Baby’s Cry

The Genre Stretch challenge this month was for a ghost story.  There’s a description of a murder.  It was interesting to be able to connect it to another set of stories that I had written long ago.

**

Sometimes we must do terrible things in the name of love.  Love had turned Henry into a killer.

It had all started out so innocently.  He’d been interested in the girl and, after seeing her a few times from afar, he’d decided to talk to her.  That was how all the great romances started, wasn’t it?  A chance encounter that led to so much more…

However, Henry hadn’t realized when he met Connie Blair that he wasn’t living a modern day romance.  If anything, he was trapped in a horror story.

It wasn’t until he had dated Connie for a few months that he met her father: Boss Jacob Blair!  Her father had big plans for Henry and he was in a position to put Henry just where he needed him to be.  Before the next month was out, Henry had been promoted and placed on a team within the wardens office.  Of the five wardens on that team, two were already in Blair’s pocket.  Now, thanks to Henry’s love for Connie, there was a third.

Even so, Henry mostly just warned Blair’s people of pending raids.  There was no harm in that, just no arrests.  That had changed when one of those calls had resulted in a death.  There was a witness that could tell the wardens where Blair’s people had gone – who had proof that they were there in the first place.  That would never do.

Henry had waited for the girl at an appointed time – late in the night, when no one would see what was about to happen.  She came out of the library and he followed her back to the garage.  Hers was the only car in sight and, as she hurried to it, he stole up behind her.

He caught her around her waist and covered her mouth.  No one had told him about the baby.  As Henry dragged the woman into a dark corner of the garage, it began to cry.  He pushed the woman to her knees and forced her to lay the infant, still wrapped in its blanket, on the ground.  Then, as the baby’s cries grew louder and more frantic, Henry did what he’d been ordered to do.  He wrapped a cord around the woman’s neck and tightened.  He used another cord to bind the woman’s wrists.  Then, he lowered her to the ground and let her die.

More

Once you decide to do right, life is easy – no distractions.

“Why can’t things be just a bit easier?” Chris groused. When Ezra bit off a laugh, he looked up at his companion with a frown. “Something funny about that, Ezra?”

Shrugging, Ezra said, “I just… I realize these assignments aren’t simple. Nothing is ever quite so straightforward as it seems.” He looked thoughtful. “When I was with the Organization – the Underground, if you prefer – I always had to be careful what I said. Would I be caught in a lie? Would someone realize that I was forging artwork? Would I say or do something that would displease my superiors?”

“Yeah,” Chris said, blinking. He nodded. “What’s the point?”

“I just find things a great deal easier – far less worrisome – now that I’m out of that group,” Ezra said. He shrugged. “The only thing I have to ask myself now is, is this the right thing to do?”

A faint smile touched Chris’s lips. He chuckled softly. “That kind of thinking does rather cut through the complexities of life, does it?” he said. Maybe he was so used to working in the system that he was making things harder than they needed to be.

Only purity can’t be seen.

Ezra looked at the water and frowned slightly. It seemed to flow, clear and bright, from the rocks. However, he knew that sometimes water might look perfectly fine and safe, while making you terribly ill. That was true of many things, but it was especially true of water.

He looked over at Devin and frowned. “Is it safe, do you think?” he asked.

Devin stooped beside the stream and lifted a bit of the water in the palm of his hand. He smelled it and then flicked the water away. Shaking his head, he straightened. “Salty,” he said. “We’ll try looking further inland.

As he turned and walked along the bank in an upstream direction, Ezra sighed. He looked out at the sea. They were just a kilometer from the beach. Hopefully, the water would be fresh closer to its source. He spun away and hurried after Devin. He didn’t want to be alone, as well as lost.

To Be Resolute

Ezra looked up as his mother stepped into the room. She hated hospitals. She hated being around the sick or infirmed. He knew that and understood it. That was the reason she hadn’t visited him since he’d been admitted. What he didn’t understand was that she’d come now.

“Mother?” he said, tilting his head to one side.

She looked uncertain, which was strange to Ezra – as strange as her very presence. “Chris… said you might appreciate a visit,” she said, shifted uncomfortably.

“Well, yes,” Ezra said, dropping his gaze. In a softer voice, he added, “I never expected one, but… I do appreciate that you’ve come.” He looked up at her through his lashes. “Why don’t you take a seat?”

Maeve sat down on the edge of the bed, just a bit stiffly. She fussed with the edge of Ezra’s blanket and then looked at him. “I should have come sooner,” she said, shaking her head.

He caught her hand and smiled when she blinked at him in surprise. He shrugged. “You taught me to be self-reliant, Mother. I… I honestly didn’t expect to see you until they released me.”

“I… wasn’t certain they were going to release you,” Maeve murmured.

Ezra closed his eyes and then nodded once. Opening his eyes once more, he said, “I’m recovering faster than they thought possible. I’m – I’m determined to get better.”

A smile touched Maeve’s lips and she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. “You’re so strong, my dear,” she said, as she sat back. “Where did you learn that?”

“You,” Ezra said. It was a simple and straightforward answer. It was also the truth. From the time he was little, his mother had pushed him to always work towards his goal – to not show any signs of weakness. She’d also taught him by her own example. Nothing ever got her down for long.

However, hearing that single word got through to her more than any of the times Ezra had told her how he cared for her. Before Ezra realized what was happening, his mother was hugging him tightly and crying softly.

Ezra let her cry herself out. Then, he eased her back and looked into her eyes, which were still shining with moisture. “Thank you, Mother,” he said, his own voice thick with emotion. “For everything.”

You did not even know how to breathe.

Ezra frowned at the mask that covered his mouth and nose. His brows furrowed and he looked around. His gaze fell on Chris, who was sitting beside his bed. He arched an eyebrow at the other, silently asking what had happened.

Chris sighed. “You were hit by some soft of spell,” he said, his voice soft. “Lyn thought they were going to lose you. Keenan was able to get you stabilized, but… the machine is basically breathing for you.”

For a moment, what Chris was saying didn’t make any sense. Then, Ezra realized what he meant. A spell had struck his aura, which was reacting violently as a result. He nodded. He looked at the machine and then at Chris, silently asking how long he would be this way.

“Want something to write with?” Chris asked.

Even as Ezra was nodding, Keenan spoke up from the doorway. “He might not be able to write yet. Give him a keyboard, so he can type.”

Chris nodded and slipped a small datapad under his hand. Ezra typed his question and then Chris showed it to Keenan. “I was wondering the same thing,” he admitted. “He’ll recover, right?”

“His aura was practically shredded,” Keenan said, his expression grim. He looked at Ezra. “It’ll take time and we can’t know how complete the recovery will be, but you’ll improve.”

Nodding, Ezra relaxed. He’d recover. He’d do whatever it took to get his quality of life as near to what it was as possible. The first goal, in his mind, was to reach the point where he could do the basic things – like breathing on his own – again.

Sing it out!

Keenan looked over at Ezra and tilted his head to one side. The young man’s brows were furrowed. “Got something buzzing around in your head?” he asked.

Ezra looked up at him and blinked. “No,” he said, ducking his head.

“Hey,” Keenan said, catching his chin and forcing his gaze upward. “You got something to say, just say it. We might all benefit from what you’re thinking.”

For a moment, Ezra just stared at him. Then, he bit his lip and his green eyes showed a hint of shy uncertainty. Then, he pulled away and said, “You want to hear what I’m thinking? Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Keenan said, his tone firm.

Ezra whirled to face him. “I was thinking that parents should use you as an example of how they should raise their children,” he said, his voice soft. A faint smile played at his lips as Keenan flushed. His own cheeks darkened and he shrugged. “My mother could certainly learn something about parenting from you.”

“Well… thanks for that,” Keenan said, blinking. He had no idea what he’d been expecting Ezra to say. He knew for sure, though, that he hadn’t expected that.

Just What I Feel

“What will you tell her?”

Ezra frowned slightly. He turned around and looked at Chris. If felt like it wasn’t all that long ago their roles were reversed. He was the one standing where Chris was, helping him prepare for his marriage to Winnie. Now, Chris was helping Ezra to prepare for his marriage to Morgan.

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “The vows, you mean,” he said. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. They both knew that Ezra hadn’t written his vows yet. It was the day of the ceremony, but he had yet to put the words down on paper.

Chris stepped closer and said, “Are you going to write them?” The unspoken question was, Was he reconsidering marrying her? The answer was the same.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. He laughed and shook his head. “I’ll just… speak from the heart. I’ll tell her what I feel when I see her standing there, in her wedding gown.”

“You aren’t afraid that you’ll freeze up?” Chris asked, sounding nervous.

Ezra laughed and shook his head. “I’ve never had trouble talking, Chris.”

Think how many paths circles cross.

“How are we going to find it?” Devin asked, looking at Ezra.

Ezra frowned and looked around. “Well,” he said, “I’m no expert in orienteering, but… if we spiral outward from here, won’t we eventually cross the path we’re looking for?”

Devin stared at him for a moment and then nodded. “Makes sense,” he said. They began walking. They knew the trail was there, somewhere. Ezra’s plant seemed about as good as anything he might come up with.

The random cause of its loveliness.

It had taken a few months, but Ezra was smiling happily at the repotted pieces of his late jade plant. The pieces he’d salvaged had grown nicely. Once they had roots, he was happy to see that they began to grow quite nicely. Now, instead of having one sickly jade, he had five healthy jades.

The corners of his mouth quirked at the little note he’d written. Jade were succulents – kin to cacti. They didn’t need much water. That was one of the reasons he’d decided to have a jade plant in the first place. His biggest problem was forgetting to water things. For the jades and the cacti on his desk, the best thing for them was to dump water on them, let them dry completely and repeat.

He looked up as Chris entered his office and looked at the note with a frown. “What’s with the note?” he asked.

Ezra shrugged. “I figure that whomever helped me with my plants might like to know that they don’t need to water them this week,” he said, as he turned back to his work.

Sometimes More Is Not the Answer

Ezra scowled at the plants on his desk. He watered his plants faithfully – once a week. He’d nearly killed his jade plant because he’d been forgetting to water it. Over the last several months, though, it had started to come back.

His brows furrowed as he looked at it now. That rebound had stopped three weeks ago. Since that time, the jade plant had begun losing leaves. They would yellow and fall off. When he noticed that, he frowned and touched the soil. It was damp. He hadn’t watered it.

In fact, he hadn’t added water to the jade plant since that day. Today, the stem of the hapless jade plant was black. The very top of the plant still looked healthy. His brows furrowed and he touched the soil. As he’d feared, it was damp. He wasn’t watering it, but someone was.

“Sometimes,” he murmured, “the answer is not to add more of something.” He broke off the healthy looking parts of the plant and set them aside. Then, he lifted the pot off his desk. The plant flopped over in the pot and he sighed.

He carried the pot out to the trash can in the corridor. He dumped the pot and sighed. The soil at the bottom was wet – not merely damp, but actually wet. He shook his head. “When you add water and the plant looks worse, it’s time to check and see if, maybe, it might not need anymore water.”

“Jade plant died?” Devin said, scowling.

Ezra nodded. “I actually didn’t kill it, this time,” he said. He was notorious for killing plants. “Someone decided to be helpful.” If he ever found out who had watered his jade plant for him, he’d tell them they owed him a new one. Until then, he’d have to see if he could salvage the pieces he still had.

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