A Special Post — A Short Story– “The Princess of Winterberry”

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Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash

“The Princess of Winterberry”
by Kelly F. Barr

It’s strange how I’d never noticed her before. I mean, I’d seen her but never really paid attention. Now it seemed I couldn’t look at anything else—anyone else. Not after what she’d told me. And she had proof—a copy of a page from her mom’s diary, or at least the woman she’d always known as her mother.

“You were kidnapped as a toddler?”

She nodded. Her emerald eyes met my gray-blue ones. “You don’t suppose I’m … I could be the missing princess of Winterberry, do you?”

I had to cough to stifle the chuckle that almost erupted from my throat. She was serious. I paused and really looked at her. In the past, the only thing I found attractive about her were her eyes. They were large and emerald green. Other than that, I’d found her plain.

Today, however, I noticed her nose was perfectly straight and she had high cheekbones. Her long hair, the color of goldenrod, hung in waves past her shoulders. It’s the first time I ever saw her with it down. She usually tied it back in a ponytail. Her pink bow-shaped lips stood out from her flawless cream-colored complexion. She wasn’t plain after all. She was … beautiful.

“Ashley, just because you found out that you were kidnapped, don’t you think it’s far-fetched to jump to the conclusion that you are the princess?”

“Why do you automatically assume I couldn’t be?” Her eyes flashed and she raised her chin.

I’d never seen her like this before. She had always been meek, quiet, and mostly kept to herself. She had surprised me when she sat down across from me here in Josiah’s Tavern.

“You hope you are … don’t you?”

She made a huffing noise. “Why do you keep responding to my questions with questions?” She leaned toward me. “Brock, don’t you think it would make sense? I don’t look anything like Hannah, the raven-haired woman with dark brown eyes and Zeke, the brown-haired man with golden brown eyes that raised me. Maybe that’s why they treat me more like a servant than a daughter—making me scrub the floors and windows, cook, and wash the dishes, bake the bread and churn the butter, beat the rugs, and hang the clothing out to air.”

“So how did you get away today? And what about the other days I’ve seen you in the market or walking through a field? Seems to me they give you plenty of freedom.”

“I may do as I please when my work’s all done, and as I like to spend time alone, I’ve learned to get my work done quickly so I can wander where I please. Will you come with me to Winterberry Castle?”

My lower jaw dropped, but I quickly regained my composure. “You’re planning on going to the castle?”

“Well, how will I know if I’m the lost princess unless someone from the castle sees me and recognizes me?”

“First, I’ll ask my mother to tell me what she knows about the missing princess. If I find enough information that points to the possibility of you being the princess … I’ll take you to the castle.”

“I’ll give you three days.”

“Ashley, why did you come to me about this? What makes you trust me?”

“Brock, you’re the only person who’s ever been nice to me.”

“I hardly noticed you.”

“Oh come on, Brock. I’ve seen you sneak glances at me when I’ve walked by in the market place. I felt your eyes on my back as I walked through a field. I know you were in a tree above me … watching over me … every time I’ve sat by the creek, and I know you’ve often followed me to be sure I arrived home safely.”

My face flushed. I hoped she didn’t notice. I wouldn’t admit to those things, even though they were true. I wouldn’t have her thinking I was interested in her. It’s just … I always found her … enchanting somehow.

“I think you must’ve mistaken someone else for me. Maybe Robin Rhoads is the one’s been doing all those things.”

She rose to her feet, came around the table, and stood next to me.

“It’s all right Brock. I like that you watch over me. It makes me feel, kind of … special, and safe.”

She leaned down, gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and sashayed out the tavern door as my face burned with heat and my heart beat loud in my chest.

_______________________________________________________________________

Three days later I found Ashley waiting outside the tavern for me. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the side of the building.

“Well, what have you found out?”

“You’re the right age to be the princess. My mother said her sixteenth birthday is just two weeks away. She said that Queen Miranda of Winterberry has emerald eyes and goldenrod hair.”

Ashley slipped her fingers through a handful of her hair.

“My mother also said the princess was born with a birthmark on her inner right thigh, the shape of a crescent moon.”

Ashley began to hitch up her skirt.

“Ashley, not here. Not in front of me.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. It’s only my leg.”

She held her skirt at the top of her thigh, revealing her entire shapely leg. She turned it out so that the light could shine on her inner thigh, and there… There was a reddish tan birthmark in the shape of a crescent moon.

Without a thought, I dropped to one knee before her, placed my left hand upon her thigh, and brushed my thumb across the birthmark. A tingling sensation shot through my fingers and up my arm.

Ashley pulled her leg back and dropped her skirt. She looked at me through wide eyes and she was breathing heavy causing her chest to rise and fall. I wondered if she’d felt the tingling too.

“You have to take me to the castle. Tomorrow. I’ll meet you by the creek in the early afternoon.”

I nodded and, with a swirl of her skirt, she was gone.

I tossed and turned all through the night, an ache in my heart. The next morning I plodded through my work, my every thought on Ashley—Ashley, the girl I had come to realize I am in love with. The girl I am no longer worthy of. She is a princess, and I am just a peasant … a farmer who lives in Winterburgh village and gives one-third of his crops to the lords that manage the village for the King and Queen of Winterberry—Ashley’s parents.

When my work was finished, I trudged to the creek. Ashley was already there, her eyes alight with excitement. She placed her hand in mine, and again the tingling shot up my arm, stronger than the evening before.

“I’m ready to go.” She smiled at me.

I gave her hand a gentle squeeze and rubbed my thumb over the back of it. I longed to fall on my knees and beg her to stay with me. To continue living as the daughter of the village cobbler and his wife. To … marry … me, but I could not. If she was indeed the princess, she deserved so much more.

“Brock, how could I have been right under the king’s and queen’s noses all these years and they not know it? Didn’t they send knights to look through the village for their missing child? It seems that would’ve been the first course of action.”

“They did, but your father and mother, I mean, Zeke and Hannah had taken you far away. They didn’t return to Winterburgh for four years. By then, the king and queen had given up and done their grieving, and were living their lives the best they could without their child. You were six years old when I first met you.”

“And you were ten. You must’ve thought me a bother as I followed you around.”

“I never saw you as a bother. You were always sweet.”

“Oh my…” Ashley stopped, her free hand covering her mouth.

We stood looking at Castle Winterberry.

A tear slid down Ashley’s cheek.

“Ashley, are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“Oh Brock, could I really belong in a place like that? It will be a whole different life. Will I still be … me?”

She turned to look at me and I saw fear in her eyes.

“Yes, your life will be different, but Ashley, you will always be you.” I lifted her hand to my mouth and kissed the back of it. “Just promise you will never forget me.” I dropped her hand.

“Don’t be silly, Brock. How could I ever forget you?” She turned and started toward the castle, then turned back to me. “You’ve been my guardian angel for years. That’s why you had to come with me.”

“Ashley, I can’t stay at the castle with you. It will become someone else’s job to protect you now.”

“I … I can’t go without you.”

Then she was in my arms, clinging to me as she wept into my shoulder.

I smoothed her hair. “Sh, sh. It will be all right. This is your destiny, Ashley. You were meant to be the Princess of Winterberry. Soon you’ll find…” I swallowed around the lump in my throat, tried to clear it. “Soon you’ll find … your prince.” A knife pierced my heart at the thought of someone else holding her, loving her. But she could not be mine.

I released her, took a step back from her, and brushed the tears from her face. I began walking toward the castle and soon she was walking beside me once again. We walked the rest of the way in silence.

At the castle gate, I spoke quietly to one of the castle guards, who then escorted us to the castle door.

A tall gentleman bid us entrance and led us down a long hallway. We stopped before a set of double doors. The tall man opened the doors and motioned for Ashley and I to enter.

We entered a room where, seated on two chairs were a grand gentleman with hair the color of sand and eyes the same blue as the sky on a sunny day. Next to him sat a very regal woman.

Ashley looked at the woman and gasped. Her fingers touched her own hair. The woman’s hair was the same goldenrod color.

The woman rose and stepped toward Ashley, looked into her eyes and touched her hair. Tears began to pool in the woman’s eyes—eyes the same emerald color as Ashley’s. “Could it be?” She spoke so soft, it was a mere whisper. Her eyes moved to Ashley’s skirt. “Would you mind? Could I see the inside of your right thigh?”

Ashley nodded and lifted her skirt. The queen fell to her knees and examined Ashley’s inner thigh. She took her thumb and rubbed the crescent moon much more vigorously than I had.

Ashley winced.

The queen rose to her feet. “I’m sorry dear, but I had to be sure the mark was real.” Then she wrapped Ashley in her arms and wept. After what seemed a long time, she held Ashley at arm’s length and smiled through her tears. “It’s you. It’s really you … my daughter! You’ve come home!” Then she hugged Ashley again and both were crying.

The king moved to join them, and wrapped both of them in his arms. “After all these years, we are a family again.” Then he noticed me for the first time. “Young man, however did you find her, and how did you know she was our Arabella?”

“She actually figured it out, Your Majesty. She found a page in the diary of the woman she thought was her mother telling how they had kidnapped her when she was quite young. She knew of the missing princess and spoke with me about her suspicion. I asked my mother what she knew of the missing princess and my mother told me the story and gave me a description which I shared with Ashley … I mean, Arabella. She found she had the birthmark, and asked me to come to the castle with her.”

He smiled at me and shook my hand. “Now that Princess Arabella has come home, we must celebrate her safe return. Next week, for her sixteenth birthday we will have a ball where she will have the chance to be introduced to all the eligible knights in the land. Surely, you must attend the ball.”

_______________________________________________________________________

The king, true to his word, sent a royal invitation for me to attend the ball. How could I attend and watch Ashley … Arabella dance with all the eligible knights as they vied for her hand? But I could not resist a chance to see her one last time.

I washed and dressed in my finest clothes and walked to the castle. I paused before the door. Surely I would draw attention being the poorest dressed man in the room. People would wonder what business I had there. I took a deep breath and knocked.

The same gentleman bid me entrance and led me to a large ballroom with crystal candle chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A small symphony orchestra sat in one corner, playing soft music while knights and ladies dressed in beautiful clothing mingled. I stepped inside and hurried to a place along one wall, hoping not to be noticed. I would simply watch. It would have to be enough—just to see the princess once again.

There was a grand staircase at the back of the room. It led to a balcony of sorts and my breath caught in my throat as Ashley appeared on the balcony and moved to the top of the stairs. She glided down the staircase, dressed in a green gown with gold trim, long white gloves on her hands and up her forearms, a gold necklace with sparkling emeralds and diamonds hung at her throat and matching earrings dangled from her ears. Her goldenrod hair was piled atop her head but several tendrils hung down by her face to touch her collarbone. She was exquisite. She had truly been transformed from the seemingly unremarkable Ashley, who had stolen my heart, to an enchanting princess—Princess Arabella.

I shrank back against the wall, hoping she wouldn’t see me. I didn’t come to ruin her evening, and she deserved one of the knights, who eagerly awaited her, near the bottom of the stairs. I could give her … nothing.

I slipped to the refreshment table as the dancing began and Princess Arabella was whisked onto the dance floor by a tall, handsome man with dark brown hair. I downed a glass of punch and grabbed another then slipped back to my place against the wall.

I watched as the princess danced with man after man. She smiled at each of them, but her body held tension and her eyes seemed to search the room frequently. I stuck to the shadows willing those searching eyes not to find me.

Then one of the gentlemen escorted the princess to the refreshment table and handed her a glass of punch. She responded politely and with a smile, then set her eyes to searching the room once more.

That’s when it happened—her eyes met mine and I could not look away. My heart thudded in my chest and I thought the whole room must hear it. Ashley set the glass of punch down and moved toward me. I stood frozen in place, though my head told me to leave.

“Brock, you’re here. Why are you hiding here by the wall? I’ve been looking for you. You must dance with me.”

“Ashley … uh, I mean, Arabella … uh, I mean, My Lady, I am not worthy to dance with you. I should not be here. There are many worthy gentlemen who wait to dance with you. I should go.”

The princess reached out and took my hand in one of her gloved ones. “You must dance with me. I insist.” The corners of her lips twitched and her emerald eyes sparkled.

She pulled me to the dance floor, as my feet didn’t seem to be able to move of their own accord. The music began and she placed my hand on her waist, held my other hand and raised it to shoulder level, and placed her free hand on my opposite shoulder. We danced. I don’t know how I managed to move as I felt stiff, but somehow we glided across the floor and Ashley relaxed. The rest of the people seemed to melt away.

“Will you ask for my hand?” She searched my eyes.

“I … I am not worthy. I have … nothing … nothing to offer you. You are a princess. I am a peasant.” I lowered my gaze.

She placed a gloved finger under my chin and lifted my head so that my eyes, once again, looked into hers.

“But we have a bond. Our hearts belong to one another—they have for a long time. I love you and I know you love me. Princess or not, maybe that is why I was kidnapped and raised in the village.”

I looked at her with raised brows.

“To meet the man intended for me. Had I been raised in this castle, we may have never met.”

“But…” She placed a gloved finger on my lips, and we danced through open glass doors I hadn’t noticed before. We were on a veranda overlooking the courtyard.

“Brock…” She placed a hand on my chest—over my heart, and stepped close to me, so close I felt the breath of her next words on my lips. “I may be a princess, but my heart will always belong to you, and I will live in a castle or on a peasant farm. None of this…” She moved an arm in an arc from her waist outward, indicating the castle. “…means anything to me without you.”

I searched her eyes and all I saw was love—a strong burning love directed toward me. “Oh Ashley.” My lips found hers and I kissed her deep and long as I had yearned to do for over a week.

When the kiss ended, we remained in each other’s arms until someone cleared their throat. We turned to find the king and queen looking at us. I quickly released Ashley.

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesties. I … I’m sorry. I should not have come. I have … overstepped my bounds. I will take my leave now.” I took a step, but a gloved hand reached out and grabbed me.

“No!” Ashley’s voice sounded strangled. She looked to her parents. “Please. I know he’s not a knight, but my heart belongs to him. Please. He is the one I choose.” Tears glistened in her eyes.

I stood frozen to my spot, fear filling every part of me.

The king and queen looked at one another, then at Ashley, then at me. Their look was not disapproving. They looked at one another once again, and the queen nodded to the king.

The king looked at me and said, “Well, young man, are you prepared to accept my daughter’s hand in marriage?”

My lower jaw dropped. I couldn’t speak for a few moments. Then, “But, Your Majesty, I am a peasant farmer. I have nothing to offer her.”

“Oh but you do. You offer her the most important things in life, things that cannot be bought and paid for—love, faithfulness, loyalty—your heart—yourself. We could not ask for anything better for our daughter, the Princess of Winterberry.”

Bonus Post: Meet Another Writing Friend

Yes, this is another Bonus Post. As you know, I ordinarily only write one post a day five days a week, Monday through Friday. However, once in a while, when I deem it necessary, I add a bonus post and write a second post on one of the days.

Today I want you to meet another one of my writing friends. I like to help my friends boost their blogs and gain more recognition from the worldwide blogosphere. My friend Melinda is a talented writer who writes a lot of Sci-Fi, as well as some other things. She has been posting on a blog for a couple of years here. This summer, she’s doing a cool new blog where she posts a story a week about a vampire in Baltimore, Maryland, and she said she’d never write a vampire story. You can read these fascinating stories here. She also created a Facebook page for her main character in the vampire stories, Niles Gule, which I think is really cool because she even has a photo which is really bizarre because he looks a lot like a guy I know.   😛

Now, I will warn you, none of her writing is Christian and you will encounter some language you may find offensive and, of course, in the Niles Gule stories, some blood and guts. But Melinda weaves some good tales, creates fascinating worlds and characters that grab your attention and make you like them and care about them pretty much from the moment you meet them.

Out of the Pit (Short Story — Day 12)

Bruce returned to Lexie’s apartment around ten that night.

“Bruce, what happened?”

“We got him, Lexie.  He’s in jail for now.”

“For now?”

“Until the arraignment where the judge will set the bail, and then Bigler may or may not get out on bail until the trial.  It depends on whether or not he is determined a flight risk or whether or not he can afford bail.  I’m sure after trial he’ll be going away for a long time with the evidence we have against him.”

Bruce didn’t want to tell Lexie about Candy.  He was sure she’d feel responsible.  “Can we talk about more pleasant things than my job now?”

Lexie smiled and Brad and Patty took that as their cue to leave.  Brad thanked Bruce for protecting Lexie and making the bust, and he and Patty both hugged Lexie and promised to talk to her early next week.

Bruce and Lexie sat on the sofa.  Bruce put his arm around Lexie and she snuggled into his side.

“I could get used to this,” said Bruce.

“What do you mean?”

“Coming home from a long day at work to the woman I love instead of to an empty apartment.”

“Oh, I don’t know.  I like coming home to peace and quiet and just Bo, who loves me without saying a word.”

“What?”  Bruce turned and saw the impish grin on Lexie’s face and then she began to giggle.

“You little tease.”  Bruce said, and then he was kissing her.

“What are we going to do this weekend?”

Lexie looked up at him questioningly.

“Since we wrapped up this case, I have the weekend off.”

“Can we go to the beach tomorrow and ride bike on the boardwalk, lay in the sun and swim in the waves?  And then walk hand-in-hand on the beach as we watch the sunset and wind it all up with a seafood dinner?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

——————————————————————————————————————-

Everything went as expected with the Kurt Bigler case, and when the trial ended, he was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.

Bruce and Lexie spent every possible minute together.  Then one Friday evening Bruce took Lexie to a beautiful, romantic ocean front restaurant for dinner.  After dinner, they walked hand-in-hand on the beach.  As the sun began to set, Bruce took a tiny box from his pocket and handed it to Lexie.

When she opened the box and saw the beautiful diamond with a brilliant yellow beryl gem shining on the diamond like the sun, her eyes filled with tears.  Bruce got down on one knee before her.

“Lexie, I am deeply in love with you and have been for a long time.  You are the sunshine of my life, and if you will do me the honor of becoming my wife, I will love you, take care of you and protect you for as long as I live.  Lexie, will you marry me?”

Lexie smiled as tears streamed down her face, and she said, “Nothing would make me happier.”

Bruce place the ring on Lexie’s finger and let out a whoop of happiness.  He picked Lexie up and spun her around, and then, he kissed her.

Out of the Pit (Short Story — Day 11)

Bruce, Officer Watts, Officer Burke and one other officer arrived at apartment C without blaring sirens.  Bruce didn’t want Kurt Bigler to have a chance to run.  Bruce sent Officer Watts and the other officer around the back of the apartment building, while he and Officer Burke went to the front door.  Bruce rang the doorbell and pounded on the door with his fist while yelling, “Police, open up!”

After a few minutes with no response, Bruce nodded to Officer Burke, who tried the doorknob and found it locked, so he gave the door a good kick at the latch area, and the door burst open.  They proceeded up the stairs, one behind the other, one against the left wall and one against the right, guns drawn.

When they reached the top of the stairs, they found themselves in the living room.  They could see the kitchen and the hallway.  No one was in sight, but they heard whimpering coming from one of the rooms off of the hall.

Bruce made a couple of motions with his hand.  Officer Burke nodded and led the way into the hall.  They passed the first door on the right.  It was empty.  The whimpering was coming from the first door on the left.  Officer Burke opened the door quietly.  He moved to the right so that Bruce could enter, and Officer Burke held his gun on Kurt Bigler, whose back was to them.

“Kurt Bigler, you are under arrest.”

Kurt turned around, a shocked expression on his face and his pants hanging open.  It was obvious that they had caught him in the act of raping this young lady.  Officer Burke moved toward Kurt Bigler, ordered him to close his pants and then get down on the floor with his hands behind his head.

Bruce spotted a blanket on a chair near the doorway and grabbed it.  He opened the blanket and tossed it over the young lady, whose blouse was torn and there were the beginning discolorations of bruises forming on her breasts.  There was dried blood at the right corner of her mouth.

Bruce spoke softly and gently, “Miss, I’m Detective Bruce Rivers.  I’m with the local police department.”

The young lady began to cry and talk at the same time.  “He grabbed me outside the college library and forced me into his car.  He brought me here and he was . . . was forcing himself on me when you came in.  He hurt me.”

“I’m so sorry, but he won’t hurt you anymore.  What’s your name?”

“Candy Jamison.”

Just then, the only female officer on the force, Officer Tina Johnson, came into the room.

“Well, Candy Jamison, I’d like you to meet Officer Tina Johnson.  She’ll ride with you to the hospital and stay with you during the exam.  She’ll also ask you for details about what happened.  I know it will be hard to talk about, but we need you to try because we want to be sure this guy goes to jail for a long time, so he can’t hurt anyone else.”

“Okay.  Thank you for saving me.  I thought he was going to kill me.”

“You’re welcome, Candy.”  Bruce squeezed her hand gently as he helped her down from the table Kurt Bigler had forced her upon.  Officer Johnson put her arm across Candy’s neck and shoulders and led her out to the waiting ambulance.

“Officer Burke already took Bigler to the station.”  Officer Watts informed Bruce.  “Take a look at what I found in a desk drawer in the living room.”

Bruce looked as Officer Watts held up a large plastic bag that held a spiral bound notebook.  “What is it?”

“It’s Kevin’s journal.  There’s a little information about the relationships he had with the six girls he killed, but there’s a lot about him and Lexie.  That’s how Bigler knew so much.”

“How did Kurt Bigler get his hands on that?”

“I figure he must have found it hidden somewhere in this apartment.”

“Looks like we’ve got enough for a good prosecuting attorney to use to get a conviction on this guy.  Let’s wrap it up.”

Out of the Pit (Short Story — Day 10)

Friday evening Lexie was feeling a bit apprehensive.  She almost wished she would have agreed to Bruce’s plan because she just wanted this to be over.  She was eagerly anticipating moving forward with her life with the possibility of having someone to love and to love her, after eight lonely years.  She was glad that Bruce, Office Watts, Brad and Patty were all there, and she insisted on making dinner without any help from Patty.  It helped to keep busy doing something.

When they sat down to chicken and shrimp fettuccine alfredo with a salad and fresh homemade garlic bread, everyone was impressed with Lexie’s cooking abilities, and though they were all a bit tense, they ate with hearty appetites.  Then Lexie presented the grand finale.  Dessert was tiramisu that Lexie had made.

As they were devouring their dessert, the telephone rang.  Officer Watts took his place at the tracing machine, Bruce gave Lexie’s hand an encouraging squeeze, and Bo let out a whimper as he followed Lexie to the kitchen.

“Hello?”  Lexie answered the phone.

“I thought we had a dinner date,” replied the raspy whisper.

“Yes, well, I changed my mind.  I know you’re not Kevin.  Kevin’s dead.  So why don’t you talk in your normal voice and tell me your real name?”

Brad stood with his mouth agape, and Bruce was grinning.

There were several minutes of silence on the other end of the phone, then the raspy whisper spoke again, “You sound very sure of yourself, and you sound different this evening than the last few times I’ve spoken with you.”

“That’s because I have decided not to allow someone like you to intimidate and frighten me anymore.  So why don’t you cut the crap and come clean?  Who are you really, and what do you want?”

“I want you spending weekends with me, Kitten . . .”

“Don’t call me Kitten, Kurt.”

“What did you just call me?”  Suddenly the raspy whisper was gone.

“Kurt.  That is your name, isn’t it?  Kurt Bigler?”

Click.  The line went dead.

Lexie turned toward Bruce, a look of triumph quickly turning to a look of concern.  “I didn’t ruin your chances of arresting him, did I?”

“I’m sure we’ll still find a way.”  Bruce gave her a hug and a quick kiss on the lips.

“What did I miss here?”  Brad asked.

“Got him!”

“What?”  Bruce turned to Officer Watts.

“Because of Lexie’s shock factor during the conversation, he hesitated several minutes, and he ended up on the line just long enough for the trace to go through.  The call came from the library at Grater College.”

They all shared high fives.  Then Lexie said, “Brad, Patty, why don’t we sit in the living room and I’ll tell you about last night?”

They all moved to the living room and Lexie explained to Brad and Patty how she had finished reading the Book of John and how she had spoken with Bruce last night about Christ, and how she had shared about her past.  She told them how she had prayed and was now saved.

Bruce’s cell phone rang before Lexie was finished.  He moved to the kitchen to take the call.

“Detective Rivers, this is Officer Burke.  I just received a call, here at the station, from a young lady named Sabrina Duncan.  She said she needed to talk to you immediately.  She said it was urgent.  I promised I’d have you call her right back.  She sounded frantic.”

“Thanks, Officer Burke, I’ll get right on it.”

Bruce ended the call with Officer Burke and immediately dialed Sabrina Duncan’s apartment.  Sabrina answered on the first ring.  “Detective Rivers, you’ve got to get over here with some cops right away.  The wacko in apartment C drug some girl out of his car and into his apartment about twenty minutes ago.  She was struggling and trying to put up a fight, but she’s not much of a match for him.  I heard her scream and heard some loud thuds coming from the apartment, but it’s been quiet for the past five minutes.  Please hurry!”

“I’m on my way.”

Everyone was looking at Bruce in silence.

“Watts, let’s go.  We’ll be back later for the tracing equipment.  No time for explanations.”

After a few moments of stunned silence, Lexie said, “Well, that will take some getting used to.”

Brad and Patty looked at her quizzically.

“Let me finish my story.  I believe the strength I had during that phone call came from the Lord.  I’m sure he’s the one who took my fear away.”

“Lexie, I am so happy that you answered the Lord’s call.  It’s wonderful to catch a glimpse of the old Lexie again.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.”

“Thanks, Brad.  It’s such a relief to not have to carry the burden of my past sins on my shoulders anymore.  I also want you to know that I’m going to give Bruce a chance.”

“A chance for what?” Bruce asked, and Patty smiled knowingly.

“A chance at building a relationship with me.  He’s caring, tender and protective.  I am comfortable with him.  I can talk to him, and I feel safe with him.  He can make me laugh too.”

Brad hugged his little sister.  “Welcome back to life, Sis.”  Lexie smiled and hugged him back.  Then she hugged Patty too.

Out of the Pit (Short Story — Day 9)

When they got back to Lexie’s apartment, Lexie made them each a cup of hot chocolate and they sat in the living room.  For a while they sat in a comfortable silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

Bruce finally broke the silence, “Lexie, I hope when this is all over you won’t shut me out again.  I know that eight years ago things were different and you needed help when it all ended, but . . .”

“Bruce, you’re right, things were different and I was too young, and yes, I needed medication and counseling for quite some time.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since we talked on Tuesday evening.  I also finished reading the Book of John.  I believe Jesus is real and I want to learn to talk to him.  I want to ask for his forgiveness, and I would like you to help me seek his forgiveness.  Besides, there are things you need to know before you decide that you want to pursue a serious relationship with me.”

“Do you want me to help you seek forgiveness from the Lord now?”

“No, I need to tell you everything first, while I think I’ve gathered enough courage to do so.  My sins are the worst kind because they were sins against others and against myself.  They are all sexual sins, and the first one is the most horrifying.  I was fifteen years old and my mother died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.  Dad, Brad and I all took it hard.  We had always been a close family.  The night after the funeral, Brad had gone out with some friends, dealing with his grief by trying to forget it.

I was in the dining room looking through old family photo albums.  I heard my dad sobbing heart wrenching sobs so I went to try to comfort him.  He was in his bed.  I stroked his hair and spoke softly to him, telling him it would be all right, and he fell asleep.  I sat in the chair by his bed, and I must have dozed off, and I was jolted awake by Dad calling mom’s name.  I reached out and touched his arm and told him that mom was gone.  He was so distraught and filled with grief.  I’m sure he wasn’t in his right mind and he thought I was my mother.  I look very much like her.  He called me by my mom’s name and he held me for a long time, but then he started kissing me, and, at first, I tried to stop him and I kept calling him ‘Daddy’ and telling him it was me, Lexie.  I was scared and I was hurting and grieving for my mom.  I was in need of comfort too, and I didn’t have the strength to stop him.

I got up and went to my own room after he fell asleep, but hadn’t stopped to grab my jeans, and in the morning he asked me why my jeans were in his room.  I was afraid to answer him, but he came to the realization of what had happened without my having to say anything, and he was horrified.  He told me to take a hot shower and scrub myself as hard as I could.  He kept apologizing and saying what an awful thing he had done, and he kept telling me it wasn’t my fault.  Then he took a hot shower, dressed and left the house.

He returned a while later.  He had purchased a deadbolt lock, and he installed it on my bedroom door.  He gave me both of the keys that came with it and made me promise that from then on I would lock myself in my bedroom every night.  Then my dad started drinking heavily.  He became an alcoholic, and he died five years ago.  Brad never knew what happened that night.  He thought Dad drank because he couldn’t get over the loss of mom, and I’m sure that also had something to do with it.  I don’t want Brad to ever know about this.

After that night, I realized how deeply my Dad loved my mom, and I felt disgusted with myself because what happened should have been repulsive to me, but instead I thought it was beautiful, because in Dad’s mind he had been loving his wife, and I wanted a love that amazing for myself.

That’s when I started sleeping with any guy who got romantic with me.  Most of them didn’t last long after they had their way with me.  Then I met Kevin.  He was a college man, no more of those stupid high school boys for me, and he was extremely handsome, and he talked to me.  He wanted to know what I was interested in, what I liked to do.  He held my hand, wouldn’t even kiss me good night on our first date.  We went on bike rides, he took me hiking in the woods.  We went for walks on the beach, roller skating, and he took me sailing on his boat.  That was the first time we slept together — in the sailboat’s cabin while rocking on the water.  I was so sure he was THE One.

I spent every weekend with him for six months before I had to sneak a peek in the only room in the apartment that always had its door closed.

Imagine my horror as I saw six dead young women dressed in fancy gowns sitting at a fancy dinner table where there was one chair, at the head of the table, that remained empty.  And suddenly he was right behind me and he whispered in my ear, ‘You shouldn’t have opened that door, Kitten.’

I turned toward him and he was smiling down at me.  He said, ‘You’re the special one, Kitten, lucky number seven.  I’ve been enjoying you so much more than the first six.  I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to change my plans, but now that you know, I won’t have to.  You will get to be the queen of my ladies and take your place of honor at the head of the table.’

I was terrified and the door to the apartment was behind him, so I turned and ran for the bedroom because there was a fire escape outside the one window.  Kevin grabbed me as I opened the window.  I screamed, ‘someone help me!  He’s going to kill me.’ He threw me to the floor and in a menacing voice told me not to scream anymore.  I scrambled to my feet and ran for the apartment door, but he caught up with me before I got there.  He tied me to a chair and gagged me.  He told me he’d be back, said he needed to get my gown and jewelry and then he’d be back.

He left the apartment and I managed to maneuver the chair I was tied to, over to a wall and I kept rocking the chair so that the back of it kept hitting the wall.  It accomplished my goal, as the neighbor was annoyed and called the police, but Kevin got back before the police arrived.  He found me against the wall and said, ‘You’ve been a naughty girl, Kitten.  I will have to punish you.’  He pulled my hair and yanked my head back against the wall, pulled the gag from my mouth and kissed me hard and rough.  He was rough with a few other body parts, but nothing that would show visible bruises in the stupid gown.

Finally, you arrived with a couple of police officers.  We heard you speak through the bullhorn, commanding Kevin to come out with his hands up, and Kevin grew more agitated.  He untied me and twisted one arm behind my back.  He led me to the kitchen and grabbed a large butcher knife.  He held it to my throat and pushed me out the door in front of him.  You know the rest.”

“Yes, he tried to tell us it was a domestic disturbance and that we didn’t belong there, that he would work things out with you alone.  I told him to drop the knife, but instead, he put the point of the knife right against your throat.  Then, you stomped on his foot, loosening his hold on you just long enough for you to get away from him and I shot him.”

“He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and I was in shock.  When I came out of the shock, I had a breakdown.”  Lexie had gotten up and was looking out the window.

Bruce walked over and wrapped his arms around her waist from behind.  He whispered in her ear, “Lexie, you were a victim, with your father and with Kevin.”

Her voice was hoarse when she responded, “I chose to have sex with many guys and the last one was a serial killer.  How did I not know?”

“Lexie, it’s typical that the people closest to serial killers don’t know what monsters they are.  The people closest to them are always shocked the most when the truth comes out.”

Lexie turned and looked into Bruce’s eyes.  “Now you know the horrors of my past.  Do you still think I can be forgiven?”

“I’m certain Christ has forgiven worse things.”

Tears were streaming down Lexie’s cheeks as they got down on their knees at the sofa and Lexie confessed her sins to the Lord and asked him to forgive her and to help her forgive herself.  She asked for strength and guidance for her life.

When her prayer was finished, they stood up, and again, Lexie looked into Bruce’s eyes.  “What about you?  You still think you want to have a relationship with someone like me?”

Bruce leaned close to her face, so close she thought he was simply going to kiss her, but he whispered, “Absolutely”, and then he kissed her softly and tenderly.

“You were right, you know,” said Lexie.

“About what?”

“I feel light as a feather.  God has surely lifted my burden.”  Lexie smiled and the smile reached her eyes for the first time in eight years.

Out of the Pit (Short Story — Day 8)

All day Wednesday, Lexie’s thoughts swung back and forth between the hope of forgiveness and thoughts of Bruce.  She found herself eagerly anticipating the next time she’d see Bruce, and her mind kept replaying his sweet kisses.  Yet she was afraid to dream of a future with him.  Could she really find forgiveness and move forward, leaving her past behind her?

She didn’t see Bruce Wednesday evening though.  Wednesday evening was quiet.  It was just her, Bo and Officer Watts, and the phone never rang.

Thursday was very similar to Wednesday, except that Thursday evening Lexie went over to Brad and Patty’s for dinner.  They had just sat down to dinner when the doorbell rang.  Brad went to the door and returned with Bruce.  It was obvious that Bruce was forcing pleasantries because he didn’t want to disturb dinner.  Patty quickly set a place for him across from Lexie.

Dinner conversation consisted of superficial small talk, and as soon as the dishes were cleared, Brad looked at Bruce and said, “What’s the problem?”

“We struck out with the phone records.  The calls to Lexie’s apartment weren’t made from Kurt Bigler’s apartment, so either he used a cell phone or he made the calls from another location.”

“So what now?”

“I have an idea, but you’re not going to like it.”

Brad’s gaze met Bruce’s as he waited for Bruce to continue.

“Tomorrow’s Friday.  He invited Lexie to come to his apartment.  I was thinking that we put a wire on her and she goes.  We’ll hear everything and bust through the door at the first sign of trouble.”

“Are you crazy?  Send Lexie back into the same apartment that Kevin lived in to meet some other psycho?  No way!  I won’t allow it!  That would cause her to relive the whole thing again, if not in every action, certainly, in her mind.”

“It would be a sure way of making an arrest that will stick.”

Brad had stood from the table upon hearing Bruce’s suggestion.  Now he began to pace back and forth.  He ran his hands through his hair.  No one spoke for several minutes and the air in the room was thick with tension.

Finally Brad spoke, “So this guy’s expecting her tomorrow night.  What if she doesn’t show?  He’ll probably call again, right?”

“Brad, he could call a million times and it wouldn’t lead to an arrest.  Not as long as he’s using a cell phone or calling from somewhere other than his apartment.  He’s smart.  He doesn’t stay on the line long enough for our tracer to pinpoint his location.”

“Yeah, but what if Lexie could get him to agree to meet her somewhere public?  She could still wear a wire and ask him questions that would get information that could lead to an arrest.”

Lexie’s fear-filled expression had been glued to Bruce, but now she turned it to Brad.

“Lexie, don’t worry.  I would never let anything happen to you.  Just hear me out.  I know you met Kevin at some college party, but didn’t the two of you go to a restaurant once or twice before you started going to his place?”

Lexie thought for a minute.  “Oh, yes.  We used to like to go to Finnigan’s.  It was like a real Irish Pub and the food was really good.”

“Do you know if Finnigan’s is still in business?”

“It is,” Bruce said, “Some of the police officers like to go there on Friday nights.”

“So Lexie sets up to meet him at Finnigans the next time he calls, and Patty and I will be there at a table nearby where I can keep an eye on Lexie, and you and your officers can be outside listening and either come in or arrest him on the way out.”

“Okay.  We’ll try your plan first, Brad.”

“Thank you.”

Bruce followed Lexie to her apartment.  Bo greeted them at the door, and Lexie grabbed his leash and they went for a walk.

“Are you okay with Brad’s plan?”

“It’s better than yours.  Did you really expect me to go into that apartment?”

“It was the only idea I could come up with.  I just want to get this guy.”

“Do you think this guy is a serial killer or just a wannabe?”

“I don’t think he’s a serial killer.  We don’t have any missing women with connections in their cases right now.  I think this guy studied Kevin and admires him.  I think he just started where Kevin left off — with you.  I don’t believe he’s made a kill yet, and maybe he doesn’t have the stomach for it, but if he does, you’re his first target, and I have no intention of giving him that opportunity.”