This is the very first progressive story organized by the Writing Club. The first 100 words came from a story which was sent to Journals by someone who wanted their book reviewed by one of our journals. Brian Shea chose 100 words at random from the story, then added the next 100. The author of each 100 word segment is indicated prior to their submission. Enjoy!
If I laid here all night, no one would blame me. Ninety-nine percent of the world would too, thought 98 percent probably wouldn’t be here. Maybe if I slowed down a little I could conform better to this planet. Of course 99 percent of the people are unhappy or maybe content at best. Do I want to float through life and be like the others? Do I want my epitaph to read off the side of a cereal box? Or am I part of the 2 percent that would work until they drop?
No, I think not. I am not (BRIAN SHEA) going to play their game. I won’t give in to the idea that the one with the most toys at the end wins. I know I could easily reach that goal, but what cost comes with that achievement? Besides, the women I have tried to meet can’t make up their mind whether they want an arrogant rich guy or a sensitive poor one. I think I might try to trip them up by mixing my arrogance with a careless outlook on my future prospects. I might not make my life better, but maybe I will learn a thing or two.
(SUSAN VENTURA) I have a friend Bob who is both sensitive and rich-the total package. Having been brought up in a family that dabbled in dysfunction and a pervasive pessimism he is surprisingly untouched by his dark past. Somehow arrogance doesn’t occur to him. He does not know what women think of him and is ignorant of their admiration and their hopeful schemes. Bob does not see how lucky he is to have escaped the fate of his birth. Whether accomplished by stupidity or happenstance it was not a planned escape and he didn’t understand its portent until he met her.
(HADLEY LEACH) Her. At half his age we all assumed her to be a modern day Lady Audley. Gold digger, white trash, bitch. Bob couldn’t see it, of course. To him she was simply Helen. Whip smart, he’d claim, when we’d call her conniving. “That’s Helen,” he’d laugh, brushing off our censure of “secretive.” Turns out he was right . . .
“Bob, There’s this thing . . .” she started, tentatively at first, then gathering courage: “Tonight, I disappear. New case, new life: Helen’s over. I can only tell you so much. Only . . . Escape this! Come with me!”
(ILAN ROTH) For a split second, Bob actually contemplated the idea. A vision of the two of them splayed out on some white-sand beach in the Florida Keys took hold in his mind’s eye, and he felt the words “Okay, let’s do it” actually begin to take form beneath his Adam’s apple.
Then reality hit, like a brick. He remembered the numerous times that following one of Helen’s impulses had turned out badly, and usually just for him: the drunken fights, depleted bank accounts, and of course that night in Monte Carlo.
“You’re on your own,” Bob stated finally, and turned away.
(MYRTA BYRUM) Helen heard those words “You’re on your own” and couldn’t believe her ears. How could Bob not go with her? We’d had such great times and now the adventures that she longed for would need to be shared with someone else… but whom?
She scrambled through her contacts list and spent hours searching Facebook friends … surely there must be someone out there with a spirit full of adventure, unencumbered, and ready to GO!
Finally after staying up half the night, looking at hundreds of photos, and reading unrelated funny stories, she picked one. A strange looking character who seemed (KRIS ZGORSKI) if nothing else, like he would be a unique companion on this crazy adventure. Sure, he wasn’t going to be Bob, but Helen hoped that she would be able to respect Bob’s wishes and move on; and Simon St. James seemed like just the man to help her do so.
She picked up the phone and began to dial. Her hand was shaking from nerves, so that when the phone started ringing, she couldn’t really be sure that she had even dialed the correct number.
“Hello” said the groggy male voice.
“I’m trying to reach Simon St. James” Helen said.
(JANET GILBERT) “Wrong number,” the man said viciously, snapping down the handset with the abruptness of a crocodile’s jaws on an unsuspecting Fulvous Whistling Duck, its favorite everglades snack. In that instant, Helen knew it was Simon, the reclusive survivalist. She hit redial with the steely confidence that emanates only from women of a certain age.
On the third ring, Simon picked up.
“Don’t hang up,” Helen said, adopting the resolute tone that always worked with her incorrigible coworkers. “I’ll be at the airboat dock at seven with the urn. It’s what Bob wanted.”
“Helen, it’s not about Bob anymore,” Simon said.
(CHRISTINA CHEAKALOS) Helen was not just tough, but smart. She knew Simon was nuts, and not in the harmless Euell Gibbons way. He was trouble, on or off the grid. But she was dangerously bored and looking for trouble. She packed a cooler with wine, cheese, apples and a knife. Simon was late. But Helen had brought mosquito repellent, and the urn. Rocking precariously on her Jimmy Choos, she opened the urn and cursed at Bob’s ashes. Suddenly Simon appeared, not on the dock but like the slime he was, from beneath the water. He grabbed one of Helen’s ankles and pulled.
(JEFF COLOSINO) It only took two weeks for city police to call off the search. But Harbor Detective Banks had to admit: it didn’t add up. Dockworkers turned in a knife, a wine bottle, and a bunch of apple cores they found by the water, right where Helen was last spotted.
A diver showed up at his door, holding a barnacled vase he’d hauled from beneath the same dock. On its face, someone had painted: BOB.
”Sea lions,” said Banks. “They’re real clever sons of bitches.”
Moments later, flipping on the siren in his cruiser, Banks knew where to look first: Simon’s.
(JEN MALAT) It was the apple cores that tipped him off. Simon’s may have been the main hideout for the city’s most cunning aquatic criminals, but it was innocuously housed behind an organic grocery store. The window displays were filled with every kind of apple a Baltimore foodie could want, and sea lion smugglers had sophisticated palates.
Harbor Detective Banks pulled up in front of the building. Sneaking into Simon’s was pointless – getting out was the tough part. If anyone could explain the connection between the knife, the barnacle-encrusted vase, the empty wine bottle, and Helen’s dockside disappearance, they would be here.
(KARA REITER) Harbor Detective Banks knew he had to devise a plan for his escape from Simon’s. But he couldn’t think now. His stomach was grumbling and all he could think about were all the different kinds of apples in the organic grocery store. He made the decision that feeding his hunger was the most important thing at this point. Case? What case? Helen’s dockside disappearance? Who was Helen? None of that mattered to him. He walked into the store. There they were. The apples: Gala, Pink Lady, Mackintosh, Granny Smith, Fuji. You name it they had it. It was decision time.
(SHANNON JACKSON) He grabbed a shopping basket and headed towards the apples. Harbor Detective Banks was browsing Gala apples when a woman across the aisle weighing bananas caught his eye. Her resemblance to Helen was striking. If he didn’t know any better he would think it was her. She placed the bananas in her shopping cart and proceeded to the checkout counter. Abandoning his notion to pacify his grumbling stomach, the detective left his basket as he positioned himself next to the newspaper stand to get a better look. He studied the woman as she paid for the last of her groceries.
(OLAKUNLE OMOLABI) He shielded his face from her with the latest fashion magazine and inspected her intently. The longer he watched her, the more he felt that he’d been wrong all along. How could he have doubted it?
That was Helen.
Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t completely disguise the delicately ungainly jaunt that was her signature. Her newfound short blonde hair was an interesting touch-a marked divergence from her once wildly flowing crimson mane.
It was that hair that had once lured him to her. Banks hated himself all over again for not seeing her for what she was then, (ROSA GRIFFIN) a cheat, a liar, a working drunk. Helen had put him and his bank account through the wringer. The way you couldn’t tell that she had this hidden life that Tom didn’t know about. But, he never got it until too late.
“Hey, you! What have you been up to?”
He smelled the alcohol on her breath disguised weakly by mint as she leaned over him. He jumped up so suddenly that they nearly bashed heads.
“What are you doing coming to the same surgeon that I do, Helen? Why are you still in this hemisphere?” He felt his (LISA KLOSE) heart quicken and clarity ensued. There was no future with Helen. She was just an unfortunate distraction from the life he had long been destined for…a life of professional intrigue.
Like Helen, Tom too had a hidden life. He was a former CIA agent and had left the Agency for her.
Tom was resourceful, intelligent, and fluent in fifteen foreign languages. His unique political, surveillance, and psychology skills where prized by the Agency. His achievements in foreign espionage were unparalleled.
Tom contacted his handler and announced his return. His handler replied, “Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is (SARA CLEARY) an extremely dangerous one. We’ve discovered a mole in the Agency at the highest level. She’s someone I believe you know on a personal level.”
Tom knew instantly who he was after — the very woman he had chosen to escape. Helen.
He hung up the phone feeling dejected, lifeless. He had made a point to leave Helen behind and now he was being asked to focus his entire professional life on her. He sighed loudly and took out his wallet to locate her phone number. Their dance wasn’t over yet.