THE INK WELL WRITING CHALLENGE | SEASON 2 - Week 8 : The Red Handshake

in The Ink Well2 months ago

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The Ink Well Writing Challenge | Season 2 Week 8

Prompt: Red

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THE DISCOVERY

The accident happened the same day another important event in my life was scheduled -- the planned celebration for my end of first semester freshman year. I couldn't wait to leave for the holidays. And, an extra treat; snow was forecast that weekend.

Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, preparations for movie night in my all-girls' dorm common area were nearly finished. Each of my four friends was laughing while scribbling her particular assignment: Heide, my roommate, on popcorn and chips; Andrea, on buffalo wings; Hailey, on sandwich rolls; and Marquez, on lasagna. The aroma of the spread was going to fill the dorm.

That night was going to be a gala event. Well deserved and well planned, we thought.

However, all would have been for naught had it not been for Heide's ingenious plan to salvage our semester with a passing grade in Chemistry.

The first Netflix movie in line to kick off the horror marathon was just about to enter the DVD when the news media interrupted with a breaking story. Marquez stood in front of the flat screen on the wall.

The station anchor who broke the story marveled it was nothing short of a miracle that any passenger had survived a bizarre car crash that left the driver in critical condition. The passenger's condition had not been determined.

The names were being withheld pending notification to next of kin.

The girls stopped their assigned tasks and plopped down on the couch to watch the story unfold.

According to the news anchor, the accident occurred in Maitlerville. Gathering around the television, each girl sat quietly as the anchor described the tragedy with more conjecture than details...except the make and model of the car.

Heide screamed when she heard the name of the city and car model. Maitlerville, a small town of about 10,000 residents, was her and Georgette's home.

"Oh my God, Georgette, you gotta come see this! I think that's our mom's car."

"Wait a second. I'm almost finished. Who's mom? yours or mine?"

"No, hurry, come now. I think it's your mom's car, and your parents were involved in a horrible accident." Heide was shaking and could barely continue.

I rushed from the common area kitchen and stood gaping at the television screen. I could feel my heart beating faster as I saw the mangled car whose front end was facing a utility pole.

"Oh my God. That's our car, and that's Old Timberlink Road near our subdivision," The confirmation and implication of my words immediately hushed my friends.

"You're right Georgette! Look at the road marker." Now Heide was stunned.

"I've got to call and find out what happened."

"Of course." My friends stepped back to give me some space to think. "I need to call my aunt right now."

I jumped up from the couch and ran to my dorm room. Heide was close behind. Once inside, my hands shook as I grabbed the address book from my workstation.

Before I could find the number, my phone rang.

I fought back tears as Aunt Harriett explained what she knew. She had already visited the I.C.U at the local hospital, explaining that she was the sister, and I was away at school.

The phone call from my Aunt was short and to the point, but once it ended, the results she discovered sealed my fate.

I looked around the group, as the rest of the girls had now joined us. "Dad's in critical, but stable condition; mom in serious. Both are holding their own. I've got to leave now. I'll go alone. I'll drop out of school to take care of them. I've got to find out what happened."

Shocked, the girls in the room were silent. Then Heide swirled me around in the chair and stared me in the face. "No you won't on both counts. I'm coming with you. Two muskateers, remember. We'll figure out the rest later when we get home."

That was Heide; the one who could evoke a laugh out of any situation. It almost worked had this situation not been devastating. I was inquisitive since elementary school, so it was no surprise to my parents I declared Criminal Justice as my major.

And Heide; she was the problem solver. It was no secret that I had on several occasions called the fire dept. to come check out the sparks from the chemistry set. We grew up together as best friends all the way through graduating high school, playing sports along the way. Neighbors often joked that we were really extended relatives being more than regular visitors at each other's homes. If you saw one, the other was within shouting distance they mused.

I looked up at Heide again, then burst into tears.

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THE UNTIMELY FAREWELL

My dad didn't make it. By the time me and Heide landed at the airport Sunday evening, he'd been removed from life support. His head injuries were too severe.

We flagged a taxi and headed to the hospital. Aunt Harriett, who was attending mom in I.C.U., came out to greet us. She informed us that my mom had been upgraded to stable condition.

"I just talked to dad last week. Now he's gone," I tried to speak through my sobs.

"I know baby. I can't believe he's gone either, but your mom needs us right now."

Aunt Harriett escorted us to the waiting room. She gathered me in her arms and allowed me to cry freely. She then invited Heide to join the circle. We were like her own children.

Half an hour later, I managed to gain enough composure to visit my mom.

She was lucky to have survived the accident. As the news anchor opined, it was nothing short of a miracle. I was heartbroken to see nothing but bandages. She would remain in the hospital for a month, then continue recovery at home.

Mom was sedated, so she hadn't yet learned her husband of 40 years would not be going home with her.

I gave her a kiss on the forehead then left, headed back to the waiting room. There, me and Heide sat in silence holding each other's hands, hoping for the best for our mom.

Aunt Harriett appeared. "There's nothing you two can do here. Both of you go home and rest. I'll see you in about an hour, Georgette. We need to talk."

Attending a funeral for someone outside your family is totally different than when it's one of your own; even still, when it's for someone in your household.

I was a grownup now. I never felt more so than when Aunt Harriett asked me later that night what arrangements I wanted for my dad. She would help me plan. So I gathered all paperwork and met her the next morning.

I've never been inside the office of a funeral home. It was weird sitting there planning a service for my dad. Mom would have had to do this were she not still fighting for her life. But it was on me now. I managed to get through it without breaking down. I was strong. I've always felt it, but now I knew it.

Aunt Harriett did the best she could in spreading the word. I was grateful for her support. It was just her, my mom, and me now. She allowed me to choose dad's favorite attire. I didn't disappoint.

The funeral service our pastor presided over was the best I'd ever attended. But then I was prejudice. Not too short and definitely not too long. I got a chance to see several neighbors as numerous people walked by and gave their condolences. I particularly remember one individual who held my hand in his longer than anyone else. I didn't recognize him as a neighbor on our street.

My parents were loved, that I could feel by the testimonies. It was heartwarming to hear others who felt the same as I did.

Heide, her parents, Aunt Harriett, and I were the last to leave the grave site. We sat on the chairs just staring at the coffin.

I remembered my dad at various stages in my life. The last, after he'd hauled my items to college, deposited me, then saying a tearful goodbye.

This was my final farewell.

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DEAREST OF FRIENDS

Christmas and New Year were uneventful without celebration as Aunt Harriett invited me and Heide to her home. It wasn't the same without mom and dad. Mom was on the mend; however, spending the holidays in the hospital did nothing to lift her spirits.

Aunt Harriett and I finally got to bring mom home the middle of January. After ten weeks, she was finally discharged. I remember it was a Friday, and snow was still on the ground. Her next recovery phase would be at home.

She was badly broken; and at her age, healing would require a slow and painful recovery. The painkillers prescribed worked their magic four hours at a time.

The heavy chime of the doorbell announced the arrival of the tenth well wisher that next Tuesday.

I strode slowly over to the large bay window of our home, opened the blinds, then looked back at mom.

I wanted to turn them around and suggest an appropriate time for another visit. I could see it was taxing on mom to even sit for more than a few hours. But she was the social neighbor of our subdivision. She never turned anyone away.

A slight nod signaled she was ready to withstand just one more visitor.

So I drew the curtains back slightly, just enough to recognize which particular neighbor was coming to assess the damage the accident had caused. Not one of them stopped to think that my mom may not have been up to visitors so soon. After all, only a few days had passed since her release from the hospital.

They rang the doorbell again, This time I asked his name and relayed it to her.

"Nice couple. Let them in."

A tall, thin man, Gerald Hartford stomped the snow from his shoes and stepped across the doorway. His wife, who was not an inch over 5 feet, followed. He held the crock pot full of pasta while she entered the warmth of the living room.

"Oh, my dear Ethel. You have our sincere condolences. We were worried about you and came as soon as we could. I had an awful incident myself. I was so upset that I hit an animal, I went home straight away. And, I've been under the weather a bit. Touch of the flu, I think.

Mr. Hartford cleared his throat; a signal for his wife to cut short her predicaments and focus on the reason for their visit.

He escorted his wife to the gray sectional and placed her down gently. Mrs. Hartford sat silently, allowing her husband to continue the conversation.

Next came his turn.

Now, condolences poured from one of two places. Even in her weakened condition, my mom could feel the difference. She'd often tell me how she had dealt with different situations these last thirty years to the point where she could decipher a facade with one handshake or embrace.

Mr. Hartford walked slowly towards the recliner, but stopped short of coming face to face with mom. Instead, he stood near the left side of the chair opposite the fireplace. He extended his hand.

"We've called several times this week to inquire about you, Ethel. So sorry for your loss."

"Thank you Gerald. I'm doing better." My mom's voice trailed off as her hand slipped from his. She had a strange look on her face. She crossed her hands and placed them over her chest.

I noticed the exchange and the bandage on his hand, but didn't think anything about it.

I then looked at Mr. Hartford's face again. He was the same man who held my hand too long at the funeral. I didn't acknowledge that I recognized him. He must be a recent neighbor; one who moved on our street after I left for college.

Then he began to inquire about the accident. This was an inappropriate time to do so, I thought. I could see mom agreed. She frowned and rolled her head back as if a headache was forming at the base of her neck that signaled enough for today.

"Mr. Hartford, mom tires easily. She needs her rest. You're invited to come again soon. I'll let you know when she's feeling well enough for visitors."

"We were just wondering whether any additional news was revealed about the person driving on the wrong side of the highway. What a shame this happened to the both of you ."

That was odd, I thought. Even I hadn't heard this version of the story. Couldn't they see mom had started to cry?

I bid them goodnight and ushered them towards the door.

As soon as they left, I got mom ready for bed. I arranged her pillows. She laid her head back and sighed as the painkillers began to take over and grant her the sleep she needed.

To retreat into her sanctuary and allow the outside wounds to mend would temporarily solve her agonizing pain. However, I knew rest wasn't the prescription to mend her hurting heart.

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THE DREAM INVESTIGATED

I woke early the next morning to prepare breakfast. Mom was still asleep. I was happy the medication helped her relax, both body and mind.

I had no idea what was truly going on with her that she kept hidden. She was quiet since she returned home from the hospital. I asked her several times, but her response was that she was just tired.

After breakfast, I prepared her recliner for the day's rest.

"Georgette, I need to tell you something. I can't keep it to myself any longer."

My heart began to beat faster now as questions formed. Was it dad's fault the reason for the accident? Were they distracted, and he lost control of the car? Was anyone else involved?"

I didn't want to ask her or hear it could have been preventable?

"I interrupted. Mom, I know how careful you all try to be. You're not reckless drivers. Nor do you handle yourself recklessly."

"It's not that, my sweet girl.

"Sixty years of living with the same person. Your father was my soulmate. We were each other's purpose in life. I feel as though he's still here with me."

"Of course, you do, mom. It's only been two months since the accident."

"It's not that either. I feel as though he's trying to tell me something as though it wasn't an accident.

"Intentional, you think! But who would want to harm you and dad? No, mom, you must be mistaken."

"For the past several days, I've had the same dream:

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Image by Maxmuselmann from Unsplash

I see your dad briefly. Then, I look ahead out the windshield and see he has been flung from my sight. All I hear is that awful screeching of someone's tires. Maybe it was ours."

"I'm with this man; not your dad. He reaches out to me, but I back away. He extends his hand. I'm compelled to grab it and hold on. I turn his left hand over. Suddenly, the lines began to fill up and become gorged with blood. The entire hand and fingers are puffy. It looks as if it's about to explode. Then the red stuff oozes from his palm, spreads to his fingers, and drips down his arm. It can't be blood. I didn't see where he was hurt or anything. Then his hand slips from my grip."

"Were you scared of this man?"

"Yes. He steps back and looks down at his hand then slowly raises his head in horror. He is disfigured and speechless. I hear laughter, but don't know where it came from or whether it belonged to him.

I scream and run. He follows me with his hand extended as if trying to transfer it to me. I thought about it. Maybe that person is hurt and needs help. Maybe we hurt that person in the accident. I'm confused. I feel trapped. The feeling is familiar. I call for help. No one comes. I wake up."

"Oh my God mom, that's a horrible dream, and weird."

"The truth is I felt the same sensation last night."

"When? mom. I don't understand."

"The moment the Hartfords arrived."

"Do you think he had something to do with the accident?"

Mom shook her head back and forth.

"I don't know what to make of all you've told me. If you feel like talking about the accident and telling me what you remember, maybe I can make sense of what happened."

I hadn't seen the accident report yet. I was under the impression that their car just careened off the road in bizarre circumstances.

I could tell she was going to have a hard time reliving that night. But she told me what she could.

"The car engine light came on. Your dad stepped out the car to see what was the problem. He'd just put the hood back down and was about to return inside when I heard tires screeching. I looked up and saw big flashing lights coming towards us. I remember seeing a face, but can't describe the person who was driving or whether anyone else was in the car. Your dad tried to start the car quickly to try to get out the way. It all happened so fast. I have no idea how we ended up wrapped around a utility pole."

"That's not much to go on. I'll take a look at the police report to see what they know. We may have a hit and run incident here. There may have been witnesses. Maybe the authorities don't want to get your hopes up until they have more evidence. I'll talk to them, but I can't go on a dream, mom."

The next morning, I woke with a plan. I had already resolved to solve this accident. I knew the dream meant something. Mom was never far off the mark when reading people.

I called Heide. Two heads were better than one.

She rushed over as soon as she could. With her knowledge of chemistry, I told her all I learned from mom.

"That sounds like maybe she's experiencing a hit and runt. The blood in the dream may be someone injuring your dad. All conjecture at this point. I'm not good with dreams. First thing is we've got to gather evidence to take to the authorities. That neighbor of yours sounds like a shady character. I'll bet he came over just to see what our mom remembered. We'll have to find out his whereabouts that night."

"I was thinking the same thing. And mom was uncomfortable with him. They've only been in the neighborhood less than six months. He was also at the funeral. He came up to me, but I didn't recognize him until he came to our house to pay his condolences."

"But we can't limit our suspects, and we can't start with the conclusion we want and work backwards. It doesn't work that way. You know that, Georgette."

"Yes, I do. But I still think Hartford side swiped my parents' car, ran them off the road, then left them to die. We just need to prove it. Agreed?"

"All right. Just this once." I was excited to be doing something; anything to take my mind off losing dad and having mom struggling to recover.

First, I called Aunt Harriett to come stay with mom. We then decided to go visit and discretely question Hartford's wife. Heide, the mixer, whipped up a fabulous cake. The idea was to repay the kindness to mom.

Next, we'd scour the local newspaper online to see whether any other accidents happened on that street the same night. I hesitated with this move because I thought surely the authorities would have done so by now. Heide figured it wouldn't hurt to add some extra information to the case. Authorities love to get tips. I sure hoped so.

With a plan of action settled, we visited the Hartford's home.

I was a bit nervous. What if Mr. Hartford was there? I thought. The door opened slowly and revealed a small lady just as I remembered. We introduced ourselves. She invited us in, accepted the cake, and offered us a seat.

"How thoughtful of you young ladies to visit. How is your mom, Georgette?"

"She's healing each day. It will be a slow process."

"So glad to hear it. How awful an accident that was. My husband was telling me about it. I always knew that street was prone to accidents. We've had a couple incidents ourselves a while back. I try to avoid it, but our pharmacy is located there."

"Yes, I remember you mentioning an incident when you visited us." I thought how natural my even, pleasant tone I adopted was delivered given the circumstances of my visit.

"Oh dear, I think that was last year. Sometimes I have problems with my memory. This last time our car suffered a lot of damage. I was so upset, I came straight home and went to bed. My husband, he handles everything and took care of getting the car repaired."

She seemed to be in distress over the incident. Heide looked at me. We got him, I thought.

"My dad hit a deer once, and it totaled our car. Those animals can do quite a bit of damage." Heide was good.

"Yes, they can. Why, I remember one time my husband..." She ended abruptly as Mr. Hartford opened the front door.

"Hello. So good of you all to stop by. What's the reason for your visit today, Ms. Donnelly?

Mrs. Hartford tried to explain. I could tell he was annoyed by the way he snapped at his wife, cutting short her sentence.

"We were just about to leave, Mr. Hartford. Thank you for allowing us a visit, Mrs. Hartford., and we hope you enjoy your cake. Heide baked it herself.

Mr. Hartford watched us leave the driveway.

Once in the car, Heide exploded with laughter. "Wasn't that fun and creepy at the same time? And guess what, I snapped a photo of his license plates."

Completed with the online search of accidents the same night of my parents, we sat down at the coffee shop and combined our notes and other information.

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~~~JUSTICE REVEALED~~~

We headed directly to the local police. We were allowed to speak with the detective on my parent's case. I wanted to know the extent of the investigation. The detective was kind and offered her condolences. She even asked about mom. Then she discussed the case with us.

I handed over the information we collected. She was silent as she read our notes. Then she stated, "We are still investigating the case. We had some new developments and are looking at a few individuals. We do believe it was a hit-and-run accident. A local mechanic become suspicious when a car was brought in, so he alerted us. I'd like to thank you for sharing what you know."

"We're glad to help. I want to find the person who caused my parents' accident. I knew something wasn't right." I was elated they were closing in on some suspects. I was just happy to hear the investigation was still at the forefront of someone's attention.

"We can't divulge our persons of interest. I'm advising you not to return to the Hartford's home or anyone else you are suspicious of for your own safety. Let us handle the professional work. We'll let you know when our investigation is complete."

"Can you tell us if the Hartfords are suspects?" Heide wasn't one to hold back.

"Yes, I can tell you that they are persons of interest."

Finished with the detective, we headed back home to tell mom. Heide could barely contain herself. "This is so exciting, Georgette. It's better than any class."

"But it can also be dangerous. That Mr. Hartford is not a person I want to confront directly."

"I can see that. But I think we've found our calling. Let's finish up our studies closer to home, focusing on crime scene investigations."

"That sounds like an excellent choice of study, Heide. After this, I'm ready for mundane pace of school."

We both agreed and laughed.

Two weeks later, we all were having lunch when the detective called. A half an hour on the phone cleared up my parents' mystery accident.

I hung up and sat down on the couch. I breathed in deeply as it took a moment to absorb all the detective outlined for me.

"Mom, I hate to tell you this, but Hartford and his wife have been arrested for your and dad's hit-and-run accident. And to think, they were guests in our home."

Her mom nodded in sad recognition.

Tearfully she said, "all the while he pretended concern for my well being. He even sent flowers for the service. His wife brought a dish when they visited."

"Mom, Another thing that will shock you. Mrs. Hartford was the one who committed the hit and run. The news took me by surprise. I never suspected her. I thought it was the husband."

"I'm so sorry to hear that. She was such a nice lady." That was my mom.

"Our family has and is still suffering. We lost dad because of her. No, I blame her for killing him. Then Mr. Hartford covered it up. Have no pity on them. They don't deserve it" I said sharply.

"Still, Georgette, their family will be without support for their children."

Aunt Harriett was quiet through all the news. She just looked pitifully at mom, then went to sit in the vacant recliner next to her where dad normally sat. She held her hand and they rocked together.

"I knew they were involved," Heida said. "Just goes to show you don't know people at all sometimes and have to be careful, even with so-called friends."

"Oh, I suspected he had involvement, Heide. After my dreams, I started seeing glimpses of a face. I too thought it was Mr. Hartford, though. I was hoping I was wrong. Then I knew after his visit."

"Mom, what gave him away?" I asked.

The handshake.

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Follow My Ink Well Season 2 Writing Challenge
Post For WeekOPENSCLOSESPROMPT
Week 125 October1 NovemberNobody expected ...
Week 21 November8 NovemberWe were wrong about ...
Week 38 November15 NovemberOutside the window ...
Week 415 November22 NovemberBeing right is a lonely place ...
Week 522 November29 NovemberMoney is ...
Week 629 November6 DecemberLast night ...
Week 76 November13 DecemberThis time they went too far ...

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I like the start, so light-hearted and then taking the reader somewhere else. I found the description of the dream quite chilling and it certainly drew me into the story. I wonder if these two investigators have a future?

Hello. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I first started with mom, but then decided to let her recover and give the investigation to the daughter. Was hoping for that reaction to the dream. Yes, those two chose the right majors and vowed to return to school.

I appreciate your kind words. Take care, and have a good holiday. See you in January.

Was hoping for that reaction to the dream.

That worked well, then - very effective piece of writing.

Your post has been selected by The Ink Well and has received a vote from OCD. Congratulations!

Thank you so much for selecting my story and for the support from OCD. I appreciate it very much.