Ten Minutes Above

Empty T-Bar Lift

Prompt: Writing Prompts by Writing.com app
Place: a ski slope
Character: a court reporter
Object: a flatscreen TV
Mood: Aggravated
proofread: R.L. Campbell

“No, no. First the ski-lift stopped, then the lift shook along with the trees.” Rosemary said into her phone. She was the only person in the four-person chairlift. “I cannot get through to the lodge.”

Below her, the snow was shifting. The trees on her right had already been dozed by the moving snow a good fifty feet wide. She knew the lodge far behind her would have suffered the same fate. She knew, because she had heard just yesterday the concerns of one of the managers. That scene in the lobby had resulted in the manager being fired for attempting an evacuation.

‘He knew and he tried to save us,’ she thought for the thousandth time since the lift had stopped. ‘Why didn’t I leave!’ She wasn’t asking herself, she was berating herself. Others had left. She didn’t know if they had known the manager on a personal level, or if they had overheard his argument with the resorts owner. For her, it was the latter, but regardless, they were smart enough to leave. She should have been that smart.

The operator on the other end of her conversation was not cooperative. She didn’t know what was more aggravating, the fact that he was not taking her call serious, or that he kept referring to her as “sweetie”. Who cares how many college pranksters claim a massive avalanche has taken out the biggest ski resort in the state? All emergency calls should be considered serious. As a court stenographer, she knew of plenty of deaths related to imbecile emergency operators.

She was about to reiterate herself for a third time, when she saw the trees shake again. This was more than just an avalanche caused by record snowfall, it had to be something in the ground. Every time it had happened, the trees shook first, then the cable swayed and the chairlift swung. Long before the snow came.

She braced herself with her right arm around the safety bar. Whatever happened next, it would be big. She had never seen the trees sway that much. They started to shatter in the middle.

“Oh God!” Rosemary declared into the phone. At that moment, she abandoned her aggravation. Shear terror controlled her now. The phone fell as she flung her left arm over the back of the seat. Her torso was not long enough to lock the back of the chair up under her armpit, she would have to use her elbow instead. If the lift swayed half as much as the trees had, she would be flung off for sure.

The feeling of weightlessness tickled her stomach when the chairlift dropped a few feet. She looked up just in time to witness a massive wall of snow plow into and over the lift support ahead of her. It buckled and bent toward the full chair in front of her. The wall of snow crashed over like an ocean wave hitting the breakwaters in a hurricane. It engulfed the chairlift in front of her and she saw a bright orange backpack fall off.

Her chairlift bounced up and down this time, instead of swaying around. It jarred her spine, but she held tight. Her bladder released, but she was not aware of it. One of the people in front of her had become dislodged and was hanging by a foot. Rosemary watched in horror as the person tried to bend up and grab the chairlift, arms flailing. The snow below was closer, maybe less than eight feet.

The person fell.

Like quicksand, the snow swallowed him alive. Rosemary started to cry. It was involuntary, but she wasn’t going to attempt to stop. She saw only two heads left on the chairlift in front of her. Two people left, not the three there should have been, two. The backpack had not been a backpack after all.

The Ski-lift support was bent down slope. She was no engineer, but it didn’t take one to know it would break any moment.

“Oh God,” she wept. “Please let it hold. Please God.” She closed her eyes.

Grey Origin

Phot of Milky Way Galaxy

Proofread by R.L. Campbell

“What is happening with my ship?” Captain Armon mumbled to himself. He stood on the bridge studying the readout on a large digital display. He did not expect or receive a response. The other officers on deck were all ready working it out according to their stations.

The problem was on the minds of every member of the crew, ‘what would cause startech to fail?” For three months the ship was on course with all operations usual. Then, without warning, the startech pushing them through space stopped.

“Captain,” Captain Siv said as he approached his commanding officer.

“Yes, Mr. Siv. What have you got for me?” Captain Armon replied.

“Sir, since our stop, travtech department reports a communications loss with three-hundred ports. Like Andearaius, these three-hundred planets seem to have stopped existing,” Captain Siv reported.

The term ‘stopped existing’ may be a harsh phrase, but from their perspective in space their departure port of Andearaius had vanished. Visual capabilities aboard Uvervakia were limited. Only four other interplanetary spacecraft existed, and none of them carried observation technology, otherwise known as obstech. All five bore similar missions, visit ports the main Watcher Federation had lost communications with and report.

“Where?” Captain Armon asked. He had not needed to ask, he was sure he already knew the answer. Various planets had been loosing all communications for about five rotations now. There appeared to be no pattern to the failures. No desperate messages of distress, and each one was scattered throughout the galaxy with no known connection.

“Random,” Captain Siv said, “Just like the rest, random. It’s the number that concerns me though. Three-hundred in just twenty-four sol-cycles.”

Twenty-four sol-cycles. They had been adrift in space for almost one full luna. Established procedure for this mission was to wait for forty sol-cycles. If Andearaius could not get the startech operational in that time, they would be forced to evacuate the ship. Of course, as long as travtech remained operational, personnel could leave the ship at any time with the captains approval.

“That concerns me too, Mr. Siv,” Captain Armon said. He now studied the map of the galaxy showing three-hundred new red dots among the one-thousand-two-hundred other planets the Watcher Federation had lost travtech and comtech with. “That many this quick will cause a panic.”

Captain Armon turned toward the communication officer. “Lieutenant Izar, hail Roderus.” Without waiting for the lieutenant commander’s response, Captain Armon walked to his command chair and sat down. His nondescript jumpsuit bunched up a bit, and he adjusted it.

Captain Siv followed and took his position at the console along a wall to the right and away from the captains station. As he sat, mindtech launched the console, displaying readout after readout of data from the various departments under his command. His hands folded in his lap as he used his mind to control the system.

“Captain, no response from Roderus,” Lieutenant Commander Izar announced, “and, I am no longer receiving transponder signals from any of the other ships.”

Five interplanetary ships, the first of their kind in known history had launched from three different planets in five different directions. Roderus from Fanceara, and Hendry from Malgas both had been reporting on schedule since Uvervakia, and the other two ships from Andearaius, Hymelskia and Paskia, had all reported adrift in space when the startech on Andearaius failed.

“Travtech now reporting lost communications with half of the Watcher Federation, including all necessary startech planets required for mission completion, Sir.” Captain Siv declared.

“Travtech, contact Pangea, request evacuation,” Captain Armon ordered. “Navtech, calculate course for Pangea.” Pangea was their backup plan. If all else failed, an impossibility he had been assured, his new orders were to evacuate to the Zealot’s home world and plea for assistance.

The idea of pleading with the Zealot leaders elicited a strong sense of trepidation. He had been raised on the doctrine of science, not religion. According to the Zealots, science was just a method their god granted disbelievers so they could understand the knowledge of god.

“Course set,” Lieutenant Commander Hesper said from the navigation control station. “All startech planets go for push.”

“Do it,” Captain Armon ordered. The ship lurched for an instant as the startech beams struck and the inertech drive engaged. Of course, nobody would be able to see it, but outside the ship, a time dilation bubble formed around the ship. There was no technology involved, just the phenomenon of speed.

Spaceship travel was fascinating. Who would have thought you could push a spacecraft through space? But then, nobody ever thought it would be necessary. Travtech had never failed before.

“Captain, we are being hailed by one of our startech planets,” Captain Siv announced. “It’s distorted and hard to copy, but it sounds like they’ll have to disengage the startech.”

“All stop,” Captain Armon ordered. “Open signals.”

A three dimensional image appeared in the middle of the bridge. A man standing before a glass wall. The image was indeed distorted and transmission artifacts pixelized the man at times.

“Ah, Captain Armon,” the man in the image said. “I’m sorry, we can no longer assist with startech. Our planet is undergoing a very unusual planet-wide weather anomaly. Our atmosphere has become too humid.” The man jolted as the building he was in shuttered violently. The lights dimmed and the window behind him turned black. “I’ll have to take cover and wait out the stor-“

The transmission ended.

“Travtech reports we have lost all communications with that planet,” Captain Siv stated.

“Captain, Navtech confirms,” Lieutenant Commander Hesper said. “No other viable sources for startech to resume trajectory to Pangea.”

“Any response from Pangea?” Captain Armon asked, shifting in his seat.

“Pangea standing by for evacuation,” Captain Siv replied.

“All hands abandon ship,” Captain Armon ordered. It was a daunting order, but under the circumstances it was all he could do. Without startech to push the ship, it could take thousands of rotations to reach the nearest planet.

All bridge officers stood from the stations and proceeded to the travtech arch to the rear of the bridge. As the lower rated lieutenants approached it, the travtech arch glimmered and a large room appeared beyond it. Beyond the arch a single digital sign glowed. It read “PANGEA LANDING PLATFORM 45”.

The two clerks exited first being the lowest rated bridge members. Then two lieutenants passed into the arch and entered the room on the planet. But, before a third could exit the ship, the travtech arch flashed and the room vanished, leaving the bridge’s plain wall behind it.

“Report,” Captain Armon said. His head was tilted in thought. None of them had seen anything like that before. “And Status. Did anybody else get off the ship?”

The remaining bridge crew returned to their stations. All around the bridge, mindtech displays lit up.

“It’s bizarre, Captain. All stations reporting functional, but crew are reporting inoperable travtech arches throughout the ship,” Captain Siv stated. “Half the crew was able to disembark safely and we still have communications with Pangea.”

A ship-only travtech disruption? They were still 21 sol-cycles away from the travtech’s forty-five-cycle energy reserves depletion. They hadn’t used it that much since going adrift. This was scientific insanity. None of them were trained for this many failures. Travtech, all tech was as constant as life and death itself.

“I now have confirmation that two travtech arches aboard are functioning normal, sir,” Captain Siv continued.

“Luckily for us, these ships were designed with removable wall panels in certain places,” Captain Armon said. “When you’re dealing with the unknown, as we are in times like this, it’s best to prepare for every possibility. What did the ancients call them, Winders?”

“Sounds right,” Captain Siv said as he stood up and walked over to an accessible portion of wall. “Or, wind-something. Something about wind anyway.”

“Actually, captains, the word I think you’re interested in is windows,” Lieutenant Rachealla, the Zealot Relations liaison officer, said, as she stood. “The correct word is doorways. It’s similar to a window, they are both holes in a wall, but you can only go through a doorway. They still have many in Egyptea. I have even been through some. It’s kinda like using a travtech, without thinking about where you are going. Only, without any way to block it, like it’s constantly connected to one single destination.”

Egyptea, the capitol of Pangea. Captain Armon did not think the liaison officer was a Zealot, but she did know how to deal with them. She was there in case the mission turned sour, which it had. He was glad she was there, the thought of dealing with the religious always nauseated him. Not to the point of vomiting, but like the uneasiness in the stomach associated with nervousness and anxiety.

“Are you from Pangea Lieutenant?” Captain Armon asked.

“No, but I have negotiated with the Adamites there, sir,” Lieutenant Rachealla replied.

“Adamites?” Captain Armon asked.

“The Church of God refers to it’s planetary branches, or subdivisions if you will, after the name of the respective planet’s patriarch, or first inhabitant,” Lieutenant Rachealla explained.

“I see, and are you a Zealot yourself?” Captain Armon asked. “I only ask because a person is not made a liaison officer to Zealot Relations, without a great deal of knowledge, and indeed you seem very knowledgeable.”

“Thank you sir,” Lieutenant Rachealla said. “I have been investigating the Church of God,” she emphasized it’s correct name, “for a few rotations now. After these last several sol-cycles, I intend to commit and be baptized as soon as I can.”

Captain Armon only nodded. So she wanted to be a Zealot, but why? Did she know something about why the planets were dropping all technological ties with the rest of the galaxy? Were the Zealots behind everything?

“It’s right here, but only I don’t know how to activate it,” Captain Siv said, referring to the removable panel. “Nothing I think seems to work.”

“I believe,” Captain Armon said as he lifted his hand toward the wall, “that the idea is it’s manual in nature. Have you tried touching it?” He placed his hand, palm flat, on the wall.

Nothing happened.

Captain Armon slid his hand to the side and stretched out his other hand, placing it on the wall in the same manner and began feeling the wall. Captain Siv did the same and it was not long until they had identified the edges and confirmed neither of them found any switches or buttons.

“We may need to put something in the seam to work the panel loose,” Captain Armon suggested. “Anybody have something thin enough to slide in and strong enough to lever the panel out?” He looked from one officer to the next. They all returned his solemn expression and shook their heads and shrugged.

“Actually, I think we all have something,” the engtech officer spoke up. He reached to his cuff and slipped off the cuff-clasp. It was comprised of two flat circular discs that utilized magtech to pinch the cuffs together.

“Good thinking Lieutenant Commander Dabbs,” Captain Armon said reaching down to his own cuff-clasp.

The jumpsuits they all wore were plain white, with no distinction for gender or officer rate. Even the cuff-clasps were white and unnoticeable. The cuffs and collars were straight and stiff having a thin plastech insert about as wide as the wearers palm, and as long as was needed for the fit. Another hidden plastech insert wound around the waist and was adjustable according to individual comfort.

Captains Armon and Siv used their cuff-clasps and plastech cuff inserts to pry open the panel. The panel came away from the wall in a single piece and was slid out of the way by the other officers. The hole it produced was wide enough to admit two abreast and extended forward about one pace. It was just high enough that nobody would have to duck.

The two captains each walked up to the panel on the other side. With each on one side of the panel, they pushed gently and the metal panel fell free with a loud twang. They stepped out into a long room perhaps four men wide. Not bothering to move the fallen panel, they motioned the other officers through.

“Woah, that was strange,” Lieutenant Commander Dabbs said as he walked into the room.

“I know, it really weirded me out the first time I walked through a doorway,” Lieutenant Rachealla said smiling at him. “The freakiest thing is, every time you look back at it, the bridge will always be there.”

“That is so strange,” Captain Siv said, looking back at the bridge. “It just doesn’t go away.”

“Alright,” Captain Armon said. “Everybody pair up. Use your cuff-clasps and plastech inserts to open these, ah doorways. We need to get everybody out of their stations and to the working travtech arches.”

The officers fell into pairs according to their officer rating system and began opening doorways to the rooms. It was a quick affair and as their numbers climbed, the effort took less time. Within half a sol-cycle the entire ship was opened with doorways, and all rooms accessed and verified. It was a large ship.

Still, by the end of the sol-cycle, travtech reports were showing over three-quarters of the Watcher Federation non-responsive. Hundreds of thousands of planets, no longer connected to the known technology services.

‘Are you still out there?’ Captain Armon wondered as he pondered the situation. He sure wished he knew what was going on, and he knew the others did too.

“It’s a beautiful day here on Pangea.” Captain Armon heard somebody on the other side of the travtach arch. “I think I see a wedding in that central clearing.”

“Better watch out for those clouds, it looks like we’re in for a bad thunder storm.” Another voice said to the first.

Captain Armon looked through the crowd exiting the ship onto Pangea platform Three. He could see the observation display his crew was looking through. It was getting dark out there. The display flashed.

“Halt!” Captain Armon yelled.

The crewmen about to step through the travtech arch jumped in surprise and turned to look at the captain. Through the arch, Captain Armon was aware of everybody disembarked on the platform turning to look at him. The observation display went black behind them and the travtech arch flashed and the Pangea landing platform was gone leaving a blank wall in its place.

“Bridge crew to the bridge!” Captain Armon ordered. “All other personnel assemble in the cafeteria.” He turned away as his orders were repeated behind him.

The bridge crew started off together toward the control deck and the bridge. What was happening? Who can help us if the Zealot’s headquarters is lost?

“Send out a comtech transmission to all planet ports,” Captain Armon said. “Whatever is happening to these planets, it’s affecting the weather. Report that we have confirmed planet wide storms with severe raining.”

As they entered the bridge, the officers went straight to their stations and the mindtech displays lit up once again. That is, all officers except Lieutenant Rachealla. She knelt down and mumbled to herself for a brief moment. When she stood, Captain Armon noticed strings of tears trickling down her cheek.

“Lieutenant Rachealla,” Captain Armon said. “I cannot shake the feeling that you know more about what is going on out there than I do. Please tell me, what do the Zealots have to do with all this?”

“Sorry Captain Armon,” Lieutenant Rachealla said. “I only suspect what’s happen.” She paused but Captain Armon just looked at her, so she went on. “I think God is cleansing the worlds. Like a planetary baptism maybe.”

“You think your god is killing a galaxy of men, woman, and children?” Captain Armon was aghast. A god would kill everybody on a planet? An entire galaxy? The notion was absurd. “I thought your god was meant to save everybody, not destroy them.”

“I can only tell you my opinion,” Lieutenant Rachealla stated. “The Church preaches baptism cleanses the soul and prepares the way to the future. It is done by full-body immersion. Some prophets preach that even the planets themselves must be baptized.” She paused again for a long moment as the bridge considered her words in silence. “What technology can you think of that would explain rain storms that cover an entire planet.”

“Comtech,” Captain Armon said. “Send out the lieutenant’s theory to all available planets. If the scientists accept our data, maybe they and the local Zealots can work out a way to save themselves.” He stood and paced in thought for a moment.

“I want full reports on all ship systems,” He announced to the bridge crew. “I want a list of all planets not yet affected by the phenomenon. Let the crew members in the cafeteria know about Lieutenant Rachealla’s theory and that we will join them in ten minutes for a ship-wide mission update.”

Ten minutes later, the bridge crew was sitting before the remaining ships personnel. How many were there? Perhaps eighty in all? Had those who had left been drowned? The sorrow weighed heavily upon their hearts. Captain Armon stood before them.

“Ladies and gentleman, here is our status,” Captain Armon began. “All startech is inoperable. There remains only two-thousand working ports still available in the entire galaxy.” This garnered a stunned murmur in the cafeteria. He gave them a moment to settle down, then continued. “The nearest planet to us is Pangea. At our current speed, we will arrive in forty centuries.”

This time, it was an uproar. The bridge crew cringed at the vocal exclamations. They had not expected that. This would be rough news to handle. The knowledge of the fact that they would all die on this ship without ever seeing a sky or field again, or loved ones. It was unimaginable.

Captain Armon stood his ground nodding at them. He gave them a few minutes to vent, then motioned for them to calm down.

“As of this moment, Uvervakia, is assigned a new mission,” Captain Armon declared. “Her new mission is to journey to Pangea, our closest planet, to evaluate the situation and establish communications with any and all Watcher Federation planets. It is the unanimous opinion of this ships command that, assuming the worst, we will arrive when mankind has had a chance to rebuild society and will be technologically capable of reviving all our technology services.

“If any of you wish to leave, you may do so now. Be advised, that we believe all planets not effected with the observed weather phenomenon that appears to be casting these planets into unusually high humidity, will do so, if not in the next few sol-cycles, then in the next five rotations.”

When Captain Armon stopped, not a single man or woman stood to leave. Perhaps more of them were familiar with the Zealots prophecies than he had been.

“Effective immediately, Uvervakia is a generational ship.” Captain Armon concluded and left the cafeteria.

The End.

Tornado McGee

Image of od street in cityscape.

Prompt provided by: Writing Prompts by Writing.com app.
Place: a smokey poker room
Character: a young reporter
Object: a full spiral binder
Weather: a tornado approaches
Proofread: R.L. Campbell

Brentworth had already watched two different young men enter Hook’s Billiards in as many days. Not only had they seemed to be there for the first time ever, it very well could have been their first times in a any bar. Most of the patrons here were upwards of 60 years or more, but those two couldn’t have been any older than 20.

The first young reporter Brentworth had seen was all gung-ho and fast talking. He had been clean cut and wore a black sport-coat with a matching tie and slacks. Tailored. The hat could have been purchased ten minutes before entering Hook’s Billiards. He even had a white card tucked into the hats ribbon. “Press”, it read, printed. Somebody thought a lot about himself.

He had strode right through the door took a few paces and stopped to look around. He stifled a cough from the thick smoke, then walked straight on to Ole Jimmy tending the bar. As he approached the wizened barkeep, he flourished a small notepad and a pencil from his pockets.

Brentworth watched as Ole Jimmy just looked at the fellow and listened to the spew, never stopping his polishing of the drinking glass he held. Whatever that kid had said, it was not what Ole Jimmy was waiting for. The barkeep just shook his head and waved Mr. Press off. That was when Brentworths’s interest in the boy ended. He looked down at the Scotch in his hands and ignored whatever else would take place on the other side of the hidden window. He drank the Scotch in one gulp and poured another two-fingers.

The second young man came in the next day. No press tag tucked in the hat ribbon this time. No sports jacket either. The tie was loose and the shirt stained at the pits. He wore his hat pushed back about as far as it could go, and pin-striped slacks. He took in the room, much like Mr. Press had yesterday, and once again strode straight to Ole Jimmy. This time, instead of a notebook and pencil, a pack of shorts. He pulled one out and tapped it on the bar while asking Ole Jimmy something.

Just as the day before, Brentworth watched Ole Jimmy do no more than listen while polishing a drinking glass in his hands. When the fellow stopped talking, Ole Jimmy just shook his head, and Brentworth ignored the rest of things on that side of the two-way mirror. Time for a Scotch.

It was about 4 hours later, just before Five O’clock when he watched the third young reporter enter. This one look aged beyond his years, obviously young, but dressed… older. He wore no hat, or sport-coat, but his bow-tie was tied and matched his sleeve garter. He did have a buttoned up vest and what appeared to be wool britches. He wore glasses and his black hair was slicked down and back, parted at the middle.

As the young man entered, Brentworth watched him hold the door open as if waiting for someone behind him. After a short moment, the man glanced back as if he expected someone to be there. Nobody was there, and the young man released the door. His walk to the bar was tentative, and he took a stool three down from where Ole Jimmy polished another drinking glass. The young man gestured the number two with the fingers of one hand while dropping a few coins on the bar with the other.

Brentworth watched as Ole Jimmy put down his polishing towel and the drinking glass he had been rubbing. Ole Jimmy Hobbled over to the young man, took out a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass from under the bar. While Ole Jimmy poured, the young man leaned forward and spoke as if to not be over heard. Ole Jimmy leaned in to listen setting the bottle on the bar-top. The young man didn’t have much to say, and without waiting for a response, downed his shot. Ole Jimmy poured a second shot and when the young reporter looked up at him, Ole Jimmy nodded.

That was all Brentworth needed to see, he stood and pulled the curtain on his side of the two-way mirror closed just as Ole Jimmy pointed toward the door to the poker room. Brentworth took a bottle of whiskey and a second glass off a shelf between the mirror and door in one hand, while unlocking the door with his other. He settled into the booth table and placed a full spiral binder from the bench next to him onto the middle of the table.

He poured two glasses, whiskey for the new-comer, and Scotch for himself. His heart rate had increased for the anticipation. The young reporter who would come through that door in just moments must be the man Johnstein had trusted with the evidence, before his sudden and mysterious death. It must be him, otherwise Ole Jimmy would not have nodded and pointed the young fellow toward his door.

Tornado McGee’s trial was coming to town. Brentworth was the last secret witness. He couldn’t go to the district attorney, but that binder needed to be put into play. How else but through a young investigative reporter? That was Johnstein’s backup plan in case of death, and it was now up to Brentworth to enact it. He would do it. He would see that Johnstein’s friend got that evidence, and published it.

He took a few deep breaths and waited.

5-star Motel

Exercise from Writing Challenge app by Literautas
Challenge: Write a story that begins with this dialog, “Don’t answer the phone”
Proofread: R.L. Campbell

“Don’t answer the phone!” Jim ordered.

“Of course!” Wilma replied. “He must use the phone waves to travel, that’s how he’s doing it. The phone waves.”

Nancy and Beth nodded in agreement. It made perfect sense to them. Phone waves, you know, are invisible, so you don’t see anything until it gets to the other end. Neither of them could explain the history of phone waves or how they worked, they weren’t scientist after-all, but they both thought of the telephone as just an evolved string-phone in the darkest reaches of their mind. Didn’t everybody?

Jim, on the other hand, knew there was no such thing as phone waves. Despite his frustration at the current circumstance, he almost burst into laughter. Phone waves.

“What? No,” Jim said. “Nobody can travel through the phone lines.” To himself, he thought, “Not even electricity these days. Only light can travel through fiber-optic cabling… Maybe she meant phono as in phonetics, or sound, like sound waves,” he thought to himself.

“I just meant that it could be him,” Jim continued. “Giving us a call to taunt us, like they do in the movies. You know?”

“Oh,” Wilma started. “That makes sense too.” She nodded with vigor right along with Nancy and Beth.

“In that case,” Bill chimed in. “I’m going to answer it.” He picked up and yelled into the receiver before it even reached his ear. “What do you want?!!”

Jim, Wilma, Beth, and Nancy exchanged confused and curious looks as they watched Bill’s facial expression change from anger to quick shock and settling on narrow eyes glaring into the nothingness above the floor, and heard him ask “who is this?”

Bill thrust the receiver back in into the cradle. Without looking at the others, he simply said, “wrong number.” But nobody believed him. There had been a distinct, longish pause between the two words, and his voice may have had a tremble to it.

Bill made a visible effort to recheck the window and door locks. How many more hour to go before the safety of sunrise? The question was silent, they all wondered it It must be midnight by now…

Their plan had backfired. It was a total disaster. Their lives were on the line, and it had not happened at all like they had expected. Everything had played out right to the point when Nancy threw the toaster into the water and… The lights went out. That never happens in the movies. Well, of course that happens all the time, the lights going out. But what was supposed to happen, was the bad guy, who was in the pool, was supposed to be electrocuted to death. Instead, the circuit breaker had switched, and who knows where that is at.

“Um guys,” Beth’s voice broke the silence. “I was just sitting here, and I leaned back on the wall, and…”

Bill turned from examining the door hinges. Nancy, sitting on the floor against the bed, looked up from her shaking hands she was trying to keep steady in her lap. Jim looked away from the now quiet phone. Wilma had been watching Bill since he hung up the phone but now turned toward Beth. Everybody gaped in unison when they say it.

“… I felt this weird feeling,” Beth was saying. “It just shifted.” She gestured toward the gaping wall beside her as she stood up from the floor. “I don’t think it was me. One of you must have activated a release or something. She looked at the others, who all mirrored the suspecting gazes at each other, which were only met by shrugs and curt head shakes.

“Well, whatever it was,” Bill volunteered again. “This … This could be just what we came for.”

“Took the words right out of my mouth.” Jim said as he started toward the hidden door that had been a solid brick wall a moment before. He snatched up the flashlight that had been standing on end on top of the television and providing the group with light in the tiny motel room.

Nancy clapped her hands and brought them to her mouth. “Could this be it? After all this time?” She screeched aloud. She was almost excited. They had their share of disappointments this night.

As one, they all scrabbled after Jim, and the light. When he reached the opening, he gave it a hard push. The secret door opened wider to reveal stone steps descending before them into darkness. The steps had a slight turn to them, as if they spiraled beneath the ancient building.

The group walked down the steps as though they were one single mass. They stepped together whether they were on the same stair or not. If it could have been said that they were in order, it would be said that Bill took the rear, however hesitant, while Jim took the lead. Though whether lead or rear, it was all just a matter of mere inches. Personal space did not exist, and was the farthest thing from their minds.

The stairs tunneled down through mortared stone, a contrast to the red brick of the previous room. It did indeed spiral to the right. When they reached the bottom, it was anybody’s guess which direction they ended up facing or if they had spiraled back once, more than once, or not even once. Looking up, it was as dark as looking down had been from the top.

The mass that was made up of five individuals, though you would not know it, reached the bottom and walked the perimeter of the tiny room along the wall. It (they) could see the table in the middle, and what was resting atop it, yet it wanted to be sure. Part of it looked this way, and another part looked that way, but it was checking for more hidden passages, or nooks were something or someone could spring out to get it. Booby traps? Nope.

As if with one singular thought, the individuals separated and positioned themselves around the little table. Somebody took a huge breath and let it out, or maybe a couple of them did. This is it. This is the treasure they were searching for. The key to stopping the masked nemesis of the night. A simple crown … or hat? It looked like a crown, but it seemed to be made out of fabric. None of them touched it.

They didn’t really know what it was supposed to do, or be, but they did know the legend. Somehow, this treasure could be used as a weapon to see them safe, and, perhaps, stop their tormentor forever and ever.

“NELLA LORO PIU GRANDE ORA WENN DIE NOTWENDIGKEIT ENTSTEHT APPARAIT LA SALLE DE TOUT ESPOIR,” Jim read. “Anybody know what it means?” He asked. Nancy, Beth, Wilma and Bill all shook theirs.

“Sounds like Greek to me,” Wilma said.

“Isn’t that our luck,” Nancy said. It wasn’t a question. They didn’t know what to do with it, and gibberish was not helpful. She reach out for it.

They each reached out for it together as it turns out. Five of them stood there in a circle around the table with the fabric looking crown. A crown that just happened to have five tips pointed out outward, as if each one pointed to the person standing before it. Each of them took hold of the tip that pointed at them. Not all at the exact same time or anything like that. They just all had the same instinct to pick the thing up, that was all.

“Oh,” Nancy gasped, as the fabric looking crown seemed to float above the table. She did not let go though, or even think about it.

“Yeah. Wasn’t expecting this!” Bill declared, amused, bewildered and excited. A grin stretched across his face, it was mirrored on the faces of the other four as well.

The sense of wonder enveloped the group as the crown stretched out and grew in response to the motion of those who were holding on to it. Without realizing it, they all took their respected star-tips and, as if by illusion or hologram tucked it behind their heads. Their actions were the familiar fitting a hat by the back gesture, and that is what the hat, or crown, did.

The five people stood looking at each other, and laughed. They were all inside the crown wearing it together. Bill put his arms out and rested them on the shoulders of Nancy to his left and Beth to his right. In turn, Nancy and Beth put their respective arms around his back the other arm around the other two. Jim reached out his arms around Nancy’s shoulders to the right, and Wilma’s shoulders to the left. Wilma laughed at the gestures and put her arms around Jim and Beth. They all laughed like children would, wearing a giant crown.

Light blazed out of the crown from each of the five tips. It swirled around the tiny room, then condensed into a bright whiteness and shot up the stone stairway, like a sprung viper.

Jim seemed to be flying North through the sky. Leading a trail of blazing whiteness in his path. The darkness he flew through was lighted as if by the sun. Below he could see people in beds in their homes, and people walking the streets, perhaps on their way home from work or a bar, or whatever. He did not know. Others, he saw though, he knew what they were. When the sun he shown found them, they were burned to nothing in less than an instant.

Jim flew North, Wilma south, Nancy flew East, while Bill flew West, and Beth flew straight though the Earth. They each could see the evil before them, whether man or beast, male or female, in ground or above, burned to nothing in the light. They each saw their own path, and their trail spreading out behind them and merging. They could also see themselves still standing firm in that tiny room, huddled together under the giant crown.

Jim, Wilma, Nancy, and Bill flew until they reached the edge of sunlight before stopping, while Beth flew to the center of the Earth. It took a mere instant to reach their destinations and they paused for a mere instant more. For that instant the whole world was encased in sunlight. For that one instant the world was pierced by sunlight down to every minuscule particle.

The next instant, they stood huddled in a vacant lot, above ground. The crown gone. Their laughter subsided and went quiet in the silent night. They withdrew from each other, and looked around, each taking in their surroundings.

“I know this place,” Nancy said.

Jim and Bill nodded. Beth and Wilma chuckled, almost a giggle. They all knew the place. Their cars were each parked right where they had left them to check-in to the motel for the night. They stood in the middle of a vacant lot where the motel had stood. Now, it was just dead brush and weed, as though the motel where they had met each other for the first time, just hours earlier, had never existed.

“Well this was the worst night of my life,” Beth said. “Yet, strangely-”

“The best,” Bill blurted out. They all sighed in amused thought.

“Now what?” Wilma asked.