When the Mortar Fails

When the Mortar Fails

Prompt: “They stood on the edge of the church ruins wall, as the stone angels stretched their wings”. Prompt provided by cruxymox, thank you!

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Sam doesn’t feel like talking, he holds Lauren’s hand as they walk. He knows he needs to say something, but he isn’t sure what to say or how to start.

The church is beautiful. It is nearly one hundred years old and failing apart. A sign out front warns them of the dangers inside of the collapsing building. No trespassing signs have been hung on every tree. Lauren breaks the hand hold and walks to the tree line. She stops in front of a tree, runs her hands along its trunk, traces something on its bark with the tip of her finger. Sam steps closer to see what it is that she is tracing. A heart has been carved into the tree, the letters D and R appear inside the heart. Lauren steps away and walks to the church. Sam tells her he will catch up, he wants to grab some water from the car. He also wants his pocket knife, but he doesn’t tell her that.

He gets his knife from the car, but leaves the water. He goes back to the tree she had been at moments before, carves the letter S, a small heart, and then the letter L. He takes a moment to admire his work, then meets Lauren at what had once been the doors to the church. They walk inside together, he holds her hand to steady her while she steps over a broken pew. The stained glass windows are still intact, which surprises Sam. He expected there to be pieces missing. Rocks have not been thrown through its windows and time has been kind. The aisles are filled with various debris. Some of the less rotten pews have been broken down and piled neatly in a corner. A ring of soot and partially burned pew boards sit in front of the altar. Several dirty blankets and a small backpack lay close by.

A portion of the left side of the church wall has crumbled, bits of stone and mortar lie along the outer aisle. A larger stone has fallen into the the nave, it had landed on several pews, breaking the tops of them, but leaving the seats eerily untouched. Birds fly in and out of a hole in the roof, gathering at their nests in the smaller stained glass windows near the ceiling. Some have made their homes in between the pipes of a giant organ behind the choir area. Along the floor of the church nature has been fighting a war to reclaim the land that had once been its own. Grass and various weeds have sprung up between the planks of the wooden floor boards. Mushrooms grow in a dark corner next to the back wall, and tree limbs have stretched themselves inside of the church.

Sam watches Lauren step through the fallen stones and broken pews. He tells her to be careful, she looks back at him and smirks. She stumbles, steadies herself on a portion of the wall that hasn’t fallen, then continues on. He doesn’t know what she is after, but he knows the look of determination she wears, very well. He watches as she bends over, admires the view for a moment, then goes to see what has caught her eye. Among stones, and what may have been the remnants of an old carpet, a single patch of violets have grown. The light in the church makes them look black instead of purple. Sam reaches down to pick one, but stops when Lauren lightly slaps his hand.

“Leave them be", she says.

Lauren walks to the altar, sees the fire pit and blankets, and her face crumples. She rummages in her knapsack, then pulls out her wallet. She takes money from it, puts it on the blanket, and places a rock on it to hold it down. Satisfied, she explores the back of the church. She watches the birds in their nests, whistles at them, sighs, and turns back to the crumbling wall. She stops to look at one of the stained glass windows that has yet to be claimed, touches it with her hands, then continues walking. Sam knows what she is going to do before she does it. Their time here is up and he knows she means to go through the wall instead of using the door. She puts one foot out of the church, pauses long enough to run her hand up the pieces of stone that will fall next.

“Even something as strong as stone can fall apart", she says.

Sam takes a deep breath and sighs. “Only the mortar has failed. The stones are still there, and if someone wanted to, they could use them to rebuild.” He joins her at the fallen wall.

Sam holds her hand while she steps out of the broken wall. He climbs out of the church. They’re in a graveyard, headstones all around, a massive sculpture of an angel stands in the back. Its giant wings outstretched, in its right hand it holds a sword, in its left a book. Sam and Lauren look at the headstones briefly. Most of the dates have been washed away by the rain. They do not speak or hold hands while walking back to the car.

Sam almost forgets about his carving, he remembers after they’ve already passed it.

“I want to show you something”, he says.

He guides her back to the tree and watches her face while she looks. Her mouth trembles slightly, her eyes open wider. She turns to him, tears forming in the corners of her eyes, she smiles.

The instant he feels her fingers tangle in his own he knows they will be alright.

The Heart Wants What It Wants Until It Doesn’t Anymore

The Heart Wants What It Wants Until It Doesn’t Anymore

Prompt: “Violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially.”- Flannery
O’Connor.

Provided by pomegranatepithos. Thank you!

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The man in the green baseball cap watches the coach while the kids are out on the field. Underneath the cap is a face deeply lined with wrinkles. Unkind, light blue eyes appear below bushy white eyebrows. Around his mouth are deep grooves, created by decades of sadness and chain smoking. The man watches, he does not smile or applaud when the home team wins the ball game. He has the information he needs now.

No one notices when the old man stands up. He leaves before the players line up to shake hands and congratulate each other on a good game. He crosses the half filled parking lot, unlocks the door to his ‘98 Toyota Camry, and slips behind the wheel. He takes several deep breaths, reaches into the breast pocket of his shirt, and pulls out a small yellow pill. He pops the pill into his mouth and swallows. The spectators have started to leave. He waits, needing the medication to kick in before he does what needs to be done.

The medicine starts to work, he can feel himself becoming calmer, his hands have stopped shaking. He looks in the rear view mirror, but turns away quickly when he doesn’t recognize the man he sees. The yoke of revenge hangs around his neck, and he wants to finally be rid of it.

People would later say that they didn’t think John would ever do anything like it. They would say the death of first his wife, and then his son changed him, but not into the type of person that would want to hurt or kill anyone. Such a shame, it was, how sad. They would say these things, but in the back of their minds would believe he was capable of it. It was the lack of something in his eyes. Whatever that something was, it went out a little when his wife died, then winked out completely the day his son was killed.

It was ruled an accident, no charges were filed, and that didn’t sit well with John. His son was dead and that was all one man’s fault. John had agreed to go camping with another father and son, but had gotten very ill right before the trip. His son would have been disappointed if he wasn’t allowed to go. John trusted the father of the other boy, so It was discussed, and decided that John’s son, Eric would still be permitted to go.
John crawled out of bed, sick as all hell, and kissed his son goodbye.

Eric was to be back in time for supper on Sunday afternoon. At a quarter to one a police car pulled into John’s driveway. The officer was much younger than John. He took his hat off as he approached the door. John knew the instant he opened the door that his son was dead. The officer asked if there was a Mrs. Holmes around, John shook his head no, she had died a few years back. John only half listened as the officer explained what had happened. The boys had been fishing, the father and son had walked back to camp to grab a flashlight, Eric had stayed behind. His pole fell in the water, he tried to retrieve it, but got himself tangled up in a fallen tree somehow. He drowned before the father and son made it back.

The officer explained they were still investigating, but it appeared to be an accident. John took the news calmly, but broke down when the officer left. His only son, his reason for living, gone. The father of the other boy came to pay his respects a day later. John gave him a black eye before he could set a foot on the porch. Eric’s death was ruled an accident, a small funeral was held, a town grieved, then moved on. John couldn’t move on. Instead he let the injustice he felt turn to hatred.

John worked, then went home to an empty house. Years passed, he grew older, retired. He read and watched movies as an escape, and as a way to pass the time. One night he picked up a movie by the name of Shutter Island. it would become the catalyst of his revenge. One line in the movie resonated within him so deeply that he recited every morning while looking in the mirror. That line was “There’s just this: can my violence conquer yours?”

The man he is going to kill was nine years old when his son died. His name is Mark, he is now forty-two, has a wife, and two children. He is a history teacher at a local middle school and is the coach for the little league baseball team. John has been watching this man for a year, taking careful notes about his habits. John knows what road Mark will be driving down on any given day, knows what time he wakes up in the morning, and what time he turns in for the night. He knows that he attends church every Sunday, and meets his mistress every Thursday at two o’clock at a Motel 6 just outside of town. John thinks of Mark as collateral damage. His primary target is the man’s father, Nicholas. Nicholas left his son unsupervised in the woods all those years ago, and John believes Nicholas is the one who is responsible for his son’s death.

Thirty-three years later, John sits in his car in an empty parking lot. He knows what needs to be done, grabs his backpack off of the passenger seat, gets out of the car, then walks around to the trunk. He opens the trunk and pulls out a shovel. John carefully makes his way to the field, not wanting the backpack to jostle around too much.

The home team won this game, which puts them in the semi-finals. They will play an away game next week, but if they win that one, they’ll be back in the home stadium the week after. John really hopes they win their next game or his plan will have to wait another year. Yes, he could just shoot Mark, but something about having all the people watch it happen is satisfying. No one was around to witness his boy struggle. He wants people to see what happens. He wants Nicholas to have first hand accounts from various sources. Seems crueler that way.

Mark has a particular spot he likes to stand in during parts of the game. Behind the chain link fence, to the left of the dugout, he yells instructions to various players from this spot. Mark stands by the fence at least twice during each game. John knows, he knows all of the Mark’s patterns and tics. When Mark gets extremely frustrated, he bites the back of his hand. When he is pleased with his players, he shouts and claps for them. John knows him very well, probably better than anyone else does.

John gets to the spot of the field that Mark likes to stand in, sets his backpack down, and starts digging at the earth with his shovel. He isn’t worried about the earth looking like it’s been disturbed, there is no grass in the spot he plans to put the bomb in, and the bomb he has built is small. Even if there was grass in that spot, the likelihood that anyone would notice is small. He digs a hole three feet wide and one foot feet deep. His knees creak as he kneels down to unzip his backpack. He pulls out a small bomb, places it into the hole, then covers it as quickly as he can. He presses the soil down with his feet, trying to be gentle, the bomb can only be armed with a remote, but John doesn’t want to take any chances. John admires his work for a few minutes, kicks some rocks closer to the spot. He picks his backpack up, then heads back to his car, keeping an eye out for anyone that may be around to see him. An old man walking isn’t suspicious at all, but seeing one with a shovel may warrant some questions being asked or the cops being called.

John puts everything into his trunk and drives home. He needs them to win their next game. John prays, contemplates how strange it is to pray for such things, then sleeps the deepest sleep he has in years.

Waiting for the next game is torturous. He makes it, but only because of his little yellow pills. He considers attending the away game, but in the end decides against it. He spends his Saturday drunk and hates himself for it the next morning. He gets dressed and goes to a diner he frequents. The waitress brings him coffee, then puts in his order without asking. He likes this diner, the food is good and affordable. They also have the local paper, which makes John’s morning much easier. He scans the front page, then flips through to the sports section. He doesn’t realize he has been holding his breath until it comes pouring out, ruffling the pages of the newspaper as it does. The home team has won. John’s hangover improves instantly, he tips the waitress fifty percent. John is elated, he spends the next week in a sort of happy haze. He can hardly wait until Saturday.

Saturday morning John wakes up in a great mood. He makes himself a large breakfast, reads a bit, watches Shutter Island, then gets ready. He imagines the man’s father receiving the news. The thought gives him an erection, he beats off in the shower, gets dressed, and goes out to wonder around time until the ball game. He stops to have a light lunch, then drives to the stadium.

He arrives at the stadium thirty minutes early. He takes his third yellow pill that day, then finds a seat. He thinks about other people getting hurt, but lumps them into the same collateral damage category as the man he is about to kill. He waits, the stadium fills up quickly. Mark is in the dugout giving his team one final pep talk, the last one he will ever give. The game starts, John watches Mark closely. John arms the bomb by pushing a button on the remote he has in his pocket. If the slightest pressure is applied to that spot, the bomb will go off.

He waits for the moment he has been dreaming of for over a year now. He watches as Mark gets closer and closer to the spot. He becomes more and more excited, feeling himself get hard underneath his polyester pants. Then everything changes. Mark is heading to his familiar spot on the field, but a child has come out of the dugout and is following along, talking with his coach. Mark stops half way between the dugout and the place that will kill him, allowing the child to catch up. This wasn’t in the plan.

John panics, he races down the bleachers, his victims have started walking together to their death. He shouts at them to stop, but they can’t hear him over the cheering crowd. He catches his shin on the bottom step of the bleachers and falls down. People see him fall, several stand up, and the closest to him reach down to help, but before they can, he is up and running as fast as he can. Mark and the child are three feet away from the bomb.  He shouts again at them to stop, they both turn around to look at him, it’s all the time he needs. John runs past Mark and the child, he says a silent prayer, then throws his body over the bomb. The blast is immediate, John becomes nothing more than bits and pieces of a bloody mess. Mark and the child are injured in the blast, as are some others, but the injuries are minimal. There are no other casualties.

The only attendee at John’s funeral is Mark’s father Nicholas.

The town does not morn, they gossip, those that were there provide their account of what “really” happened. They add details each time they tell their version. The story of what happened becomes story told by children to scare other children. This is the legacy he leaves behind.