Speculative Science Fiction Fantasy

"Speak now. We want that book, Mrs. Skinner."

Mildred's body shook, and her legs felt weak. "What do you want me to say? I don't have it anymore."

"The Journal? The one, your son found and gave you. We have your letter to the Smithsonian and your transcriptions. Hand it over."

Mildred was tired. She just wanted this blustering man and his driver to return to the black Land Rover with tinted windows to leave. "I don't have it."

"We'll go away after you give it to us."

"It was on my bedside table last night and was gone when I got up this morning. It must have been stolen."

"We're going to search your house and property."

"Do you have a warrant?" Mildred asked, using the knowledge she had gleaned from her crime shows.

"Lady, we don't need a warrant! Remember 911 last year? Do you want to go to federal prison?"

"May I see your ID again? Your orders? This isn't China, at least not yet." She clenched her fists and shoved them into her cardigan's pockets. She was cold, and her mouth felt dry, but she wasn't about to go down without a fight.

"What's goin' on, Gran?"

Mildred turned and saw Josh in his sweats and messed up hair. "Honey, these men want that book you found in the woods, and I told them I don't have it anymore."

"Just getting up in time for lunch?"

The officer's dark sarcasm annoyed Josh. He frowned and clenched his fists. "No, I worked a double shift yesterday. Why?"

"What kind of work do you do?"

"I work for Smith's LP Gas company."

"We'll check on that, Josh."

"Well, Sir, that's fine. I won't lie, now please go, you're upsetting my Gran, and she's too old for all this stress. If she told you she doesn't have it, she doesn't."

"Mrs. Skinner, Josh, I need you to step aside while we search your house and property."

"Who's we?" Mildred looked at her long dirt driveway and watched dust clouds grow larger as two military-style trucks drove right up to her porch. Three men dressed like robocops piled out of each vehicle, carrying a rifle, and stood at attention.

"We'd better go, Gran. You always told me to stay out of a fight when outnumbered." Josh helped her walk down the steps and asked the Commander, "Please hand us a chair? Gran can't stand for very long."

The Commander nodded to one officer, and she saluted, grabbed a wicker rocker from the porch, placed it in the shade of a nearby tree, then returned to her position. The Commander nodded and watched his team race inside like they expected an attack. Josh and Mildred listened as they shouted orders, overturned furniture, and shattered glass.

"Hey! Take it easy on our home!"

"Josh, we'll take it easy and leave. Just give us the book!"

"We don't have it anymore!" Mildred stood, and sank back into the rocker, her heart thudded against her chest, and her breathing became more difficult.

"You're lying. Your house is in a remote national forest, so who'd come out here to steal a book?"

"You did," Mildred said.

Josh tried to stifle a laugh but failed.

The man's face reddened. "Lady, just give us the book. It's for national security. And this is a place where anyone might go missing."

Josh stepped forward. "Is that a threat, sir?" His face was red now, and he clenched his fists at his sides.

"Gran, try to calm down. I'll bring you a glass of water."

She did while he went inside. 'Aw shit!"

They'd tossed most of the furniture, emptied the canisters of flour, sugar, and bags of coffee beans onto the floor, then emptied the fridge and dumped most of the contents. They tossed every room, as well as the garden shed, the remains of the barn, the tiny crawl space under the front porch, and Josh's pickup.

Josh gave her the water. "I'll clean it up, Gran. It's not so bad."

Mildred motioned for him to come closer, and he hunkered beside her.

Mildred's voice was raspy, "Josh, Honey, for the first time in my life, I lied on purpose. I've fiddled with the truth when it was necessary or helpful, but I've never told lies."

"It's okay, Gran. We don't even know those guys are from the government. Their cars were unmarked. That so-called Commander flashed his badge, but anyone could get a fake. Why are they so hell-bent on getting an old journal, anyway?"

Mildred took a sip of water and looked up through the oak branches at the blue sky. This always calmed her. "There are stories about folks going missing out here, and I'm sure you've heard a few of them. That's the only reason I can figure out why they're so interested. Maybe some rich or important person is missing? There is that map I found in the back of the book, and maybe that's what they want?"

"Do you think that's what happened to Mom and Dad?"

"I don't know, Josh. Your dad was driving your Mom to the hospital. She'd been acting strangely for months. She said she heard voices in the night, that something was in the woods behind the old barn, and it wanted to take you. Then she just stopped speaking. That's when your dad left you with me and took her to the hospital for evaluation."

"Realy? You told me they died in a car crash."

"And you told me you never lie."

"I know. I didn't want you to think they left you. Honey, I never told you this, but the Sherriff found their old Plymouth by the side of the road a few miles from here. The keys were in the ignition, her purse lay on the front seat, and her suitcase was still in the trunk! So many people came to search for them, but no clue was ever found. Some folks thought their car had broken down or they were kidnapped, but that was not the case, they had no money, and the car was in perfect condition.

Some thought your Mom ran into the woods, your dad chased after her, and they got lost. But that's a load of crap. Your dad knew these woods and wouldn't get lost."

"Maybe, Gran, but there are thousands of acres around here, people get turned around or fall into crevices, all kinds of ways to go missing. I've searched those woods for ten years but never found anything or another soul. So it might have happened."

"I know, Josh, but the curious thing is, rescue parties, volunteers, and once, even the National Guard searched for missing folks. Often they'd find people who'd gotten lost or a couple of bodies of hunters after the spring thaw. But nothing was ever found for some, except maybe a shoe or a hat. Nothing else, no bodies, no bones, no gear, guns, or tents, not one thing. It's like they never existed.

"Do you think that's what happened to the people in the book?"

"Maybe, and I think the Good Lord meant for you to find it. I don't know why."

"So where is it, Gran?"

Mildred smiled, "I think you know."

"Oh no, not again."

"It's in several layers of plastic wrap and plastic bags. The outhouse hasn't been used since 1922, and there are no toilet droppings anymore. Besides, It's tied to a piece of clothesline, hanging from a hook in the wood. I didn't just pitch it in there!"

"Do you want me to get it?"

"No. Wait a while. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those guys weren't still watching us."


Raj wrote: We've kept track of the days, ninety so far, the old prisoner way with marks on a rock because our electrical devices no longer work.

Living here is okay so far because we would rather be out in nature than stuck in an office or lab. We have what we need for survival between the experience and item of the five of us. But we miss our friends and coworkers. And we are scared, especially me, after that cacoon incident. We've made spears and make sure to avoid more webs. None of us has seen any since that night, and I'm fine now.

We wonder if we're stuck here by accident or design. A curious thought is we're all orphans. Wren and Dax never knew their parents, and they just know they grew up in rotating foster homes. My folks died because they were old, and they decided to have a baby while in their fifties. I wouldn't recommend it. Sparrow lost track of her mom years ago, and her father died while serving in the middle east. My point is none of us have family or friends who would doggedly search for us, like the parents and siblings who put posters on every pole and shop window and never give up. We work in different departments and are friends, we took this trip on our own. We love our jobs that much!

I wrote the pertinent info for each of us on the back page. Full name, date of birth, address, etc. And put the map inside the back cover.

Yesterday, Sparrow said she thought she heard people talking or calling out while she collected watercress. She shouted back for a long time but never heard them again. She couldn't make out what they said; it all came from the other side of the lake.

On the bright side, Russ only uses solar-powered devices, which is good here as there is no electricity. He checks the water quality, soil content, and barometric pressure. We have a mild storm every morning and receive between one to three inches of rain, then the sky clears. Sparrow weaves, bowls, and baskets that hold water, an art she learned from her grandmother. The rain is plentiful now, but we cannot know if it will continue. We worry about winter and are digging an earth-house into the side of a nearby hill.

Wren finds food, which is plentiful. We eat a lot of green leafies, root vegetables, berries, and mushrooms. She's drying as much food as possible in case we're stuck here forever. Russ and I miss meat but see very few animals and be probably wouldn't able to kill them unless we were starving. We catch fish in the pond that looks like bass but tastes like perch. Sparrow made friends with a bee colony near our camp that fills her metal camp cup when we need it. She stands there and says they talk to each other mentally. Strange, but it makes even the worst concoction of Emily's drinkable.

We hope that someone, sometime, somewhere, finds us or this and deciphers our journals and knows what happened here. We don't know where 'here' is; I'll try to explain:

In the beginning, there were five of us: Russel James, Sparrow Hightower, Wren Martin, Dax Jackson, and me, Raj Singh.

We are coworkers and friends who work for Michigan State University while taking advanced courses in our disciplines: botany, geology, and ecological forensics, all the earth science because. of our collective love for this plan planet. We are colleagues and friends employed by Michigan State University and taking higher-level classes in our areas of study: botany, geology, and ecological forensics, all of which are earth sciences. And its diversity. Among our other talents are helpful, as well, writing, crafting, and drawing (especially sketches of the unusual flora and fauna. We took survival classes and thought we were as prepared as humans for our week in the wilderness.

I feel responsible for all this because I insisted we take the Devil's Lake Trail. It's the most primordial forest we've ever experienced. There are trees, hundreds of years old, maybe older. There are many plants, insects, and birds we are used to, but also many new ones that were thought to have gone extinct. This trip was unofficially work-related. We're recording and gathering samples (we are all state-approved) and notes detailing the wildlife. This helps other scientists to learn about where some organisms are plentiful, rare, or nearing extinction.

We last had contact with what we call 'home' when we stopped at the Last Chance combo gas station, mini Mart, and souvenir shop. The name seems foreboding now. I topped off the gas while the rest headed for the bathrooms. I went in, looked around, and looked around the souvenir section. I was pleased to see that all the souvenirs were handmade by locals.

An elderly man sat in a chair in the corner, carving wood. I smiled, and he looked at me and asked what we planned on doing in the park. I told him. He nodded and picked up a bright pink flyer from a small table near him. It announced, "Pig Roast!" He turned it over and drew something on the back. It was a crude map. He said, "Go here to find the rarest items Mother earth keeps secrets. It sounds like your group cares about Her. Find two large boulders at the edge of your trail. Look between them, and you will see a large X. Walk toward it. The trail will be difficult to follow but worth it."

Summer poked her head into the store and yelled, "Hey, let's go! We're burning daylight!"

I started to say something to the old man, but he returned his carving and spoke no more. I went to pay for the gas and asked the cashier, "Who is that guy in the corner?"

He said, 'Heck if I know, I just started here a few days ago."

I had no clue about what I was getting us into. Russ takes three-hundred steps each morning, pushing his walking stick into the ground as a trail back. He goes in a different direction each time but never finds the hiking trail or the boulders. One of us always goes with him, but I fear we're stuck here, wherever here is.

March 24, 2023 02:17

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Emory Pearson
16:59 Mar 30, 2023

Patricia, I like your style! I found the story very engaging with the heavy dialogue in the beginning, I just wanted to keep going to find out what would be said next. I kept hoping for a clue drop from the characters as to what that book was all about and instead I was teased with more mysterious happenings. Great work with building suspense.


17:28 Mar 30, 2023

Thank you so much! words of encouragement are so helpful and I'm happy that you enjoyed it. xo


20:35 Mar 30, 2023

Oh - there is a Where is Here (1) - 2 is really the back story - sort of. Again, thank you so much.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Viga Boland
21:00 Mar 24, 2023

Wow…another hot off the press last minute submission Patricia? You are amazing. So many different stories week after week. Your mind is one fertile field of inventiveness. I bow to your brilliance. And you already have someone interested in buying it? You rock! Totally loved the opening scenario. So well delivered. And intriguing ie. are these Feds or what? How dare they take over just like that? And that lovely intimacy between Grandma and Josh. No question: this reads like the start to a great novel or TV series.


21:51 Mar 24, 2023

Thank you again - I get frustrated at times - never getting short listed or winning, but the main reason I keep doing it is because I need a deadline. Your comments are so helpful! Do you know about David Paulides Missing 411 books? Fascinating (and scary/sad) all the people who go missing in National parks and nobody seems to care. Some park ranger bosses are like these guys - (whoever they may be - not sure yet)xox I'm thinking this is a novel. I wrote one in the 80's, back when you had to sent the whole manuscript and pay for them to...


Viga Boland
22:46 Mar 24, 2023

There you go again i.e. your last sentence in your comments immediately made me think of yet another story you could write i.e that ominous UPS truck! No, I’m not familiar with David Paulides Missing 411 books. Was that, and the missing pesons you mention, the inspiration for this story?


23:28 Mar 24, 2023

The UPS is an interesting idea - especially since I keep getting plants, candy and a CASE of Seaweed Snack Wafers (B tasted a tiny bit- GAG!) I also have gotten 2 beautiful floral bouquets delivered from?? Yes, I have 5 of D.Paulide's books - and it does have a lot of inspiration in them. Sometimes people 'return' but don't remember where they've been for days, weeks, or years! I get his books from his website - there are some for sale on eBay for about five times what he sells them for! I'm not sure about this week's challenge - I don'...


Viga Boland
02:32 Mar 25, 2023

Just let each week’s prompts take you where that fertile mind you have decides to go. And none of us has to write a story a week if prompt doesn’t inspire.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
11:27 Mar 24, 2023

Well, that was suspenseful. Will there be more on the adventures of the "lost" university workers? I like it, Patricia. A few typos to clean up, though. Cheers!


15:25 Mar 24, 2023

Someone here was interested in buying it! and someone else mentioned Vella? So there will be more, but maybe not here. So glad you like it! I'll share any future stuff if you'd like.xoxo


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Irene Duchess
02:53 Mar 24, 2023

YESSSS! PLEASE PLEASE MORE! :D loved the cliffhanger ending... although it kind of drives me mad. most cliffhangers to that to me--they drive me mad, and yet I still am glad they're there. :) quick typo--'carrying a rifles', maybe you just meant carrying rifles? thanks for writing! :) (can I like this multiple times?) lol


03:48 Mar 24, 2023

Aw thank you so much. Maybe Crying rifles? I get so mixed up when I use Grammarly and then ProWrite and they disagree. thanks I'm SO happy that you like my story - it's fun to write. The 'get it done by Friday' keeps me motivated. Bless your heart (in a good way)xoxo


Show 0 replies
03:59 Mar 24, 2023

Thank you for finding the typo - and Grammarly found 30 more goobers after they said it was all great? What? So, thank you! xo


Irene Duchess
15:26 Mar 24, 2023

Yikes. I actually have never used an editing app, so I haven’t had problems like that *shrug* Although I have been corrected before on a few things. :)


15:35 Mar 24, 2023

Grammarly is helpful and there is a free version - I sometimes write for magazines and want to be sure the pieces are fine. Ha. My big problem with commas and I still leave 2 spaces after a period. Someone posted about "Vella" via Kindle, where you publish on-going works.


Irene Duchess
16:37 Mar 24, 2023

Huh. Sometimes I think I do too many commas. Lol What magazines do you write in?


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
17:39 Mar 24, 2023

a Hydroponic mag (don't remember the name) chicken soup for the soul (3 stories 19 pending), Green Prints, country folk art, western lifestyles (I think they closed), and a few more, but it was long ago.


Irene Duchess
18:19 Mar 24, 2023

cool. :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 3 replies