Forbidden Places – Submit Your Sixth Short Story For 2018 Today

We’re halfway in our short story challenge for 2018! Well done, writers. I am very proud of everyone. 

Submission process:

I will accept and approve posts for Forbidden Places (Word count: 1800 words) from 13 June 2018, 8:00 (Johannesburg time | GMT +2:00), until 14 June 2018, 8:00 (Johannesburg time | GMT +2:00) on  Please ask Google to figure out what time that will be in your part of the world. 

Please use the correct format:

In the post title bar:  Story Title by Author Name.

Just above the story: Prompt: XXXXXX | Word count: XXXXXX | Genre: XXXXXX

Warning: Please add a warning if your story is not appropriate for sensitive or younger readers.

Can I still join?

You can join the 12 Short Story Challenge in any month. So, if you start in June, that will be month one for you and then May 2019 will be month 12.

Here is the procedure:

  1. Read today’s post.
  2. Post your story on 12 Short Stories.
  3. Read and comment on at least four other stories. Please spread the love. Look for stories that haven’t been read, instead of everyone reading and commenting on the same stories. If you want tips on how to comment, read this post: The Complete Guide To Evaluating Your Short Story.
  4. This is an exercise in discipline. The comments are a bonus. There is no prize because I want you to focus on writing for yourself and to try and take more risks.
  5. Be kind when you comment. Start with a positive comment, suggest an improvement, and end with something positive. We are here to learn.
  6. Our next prompt is at the end of this post.

A few more points:

  1. I will try to read as many posts as possible, but I do have a day job that I would like to keep.
  2. NO hate speech. None. If you see something nasty that I should be made aware of, please send me a message.
  3. Be careful of profanity.
  4. I need to approve every post. Please be patient with me. I am teaching during the day and I will approve them as quickly as I can. They will all go up. 

Here is my short story:

The Wheels of the Bus by Mia Botha

Prompt: Forbidden places | Word count: 1800 words exactly | Genre: Action

Warning: Profanity and violence and a rather upsetting end.

It’s damp under the bridge. Her back cold against the concrete. Drew sits across from her. His long legs crossed in front of him.  Joy watches him. The three-day stubble, dark and heavy on his jaw.

It’s only been a few weeks, but she still can’t figure him out. The ridiculous shirts and the aviator glasses, the grin, the way he shifts and changes. She can’t place him.

His eyes are closed, sweat beading on his brow. She keeps her eyes on the slow steady rhythm of his heart beating in his neck.

She runs her hand over her face. She needs to get a grip. She can’t go there. Not with him. Well, not again.

She peers up the embankment. Hoping for a new sound. They’ve been here for hours and still nothing. Drew hasn’t said much. Why does she trust him? She knows he is hiding something.

She opens the map for the twentieth time and smooths down the paper, the folds worn thin, tearing a little more each time she unfolds it.

They had moved from village to village for three days searching clues to the missing bus. A bus full of innocent children. They had narrowed down a location, but she still had no clue who was responsible. All she knew that this was the last route. The only road left that the old school bus could manage. A road that leads very deep into the jungle, that leads to a place she never thought she’d have to go again. They had to stop the bus before it got there.

She traces the route once more, checking their co-ordinates, comparing it with the time on her watch.

“It’s still too soon.” Drew says.

She turns back to him. “I thought you were sleeping.”

“I am,” his eyes still closed, “but you sigh loudly.”

“I don’t get you.” She snaps.

“Not a lot to get. I’m a simple guy.”

“No. That is exactly it. That is just what you want people to think.”

He grins.

“It’s not a compliment.”

“From you, that is as close as I will ever get to a compliment.”

She rolls her eyes and slumps against the concrete pillar. “What can I say, I’m not a simple girl. The compliments I got growing up involved guns and accuracy.”  

Drew watches her. It makes her uncomfortable. He sees more than she wants him to.

“Did you know Carlos sent me to finishing-school? In Switzerland.”  She blurts out. It happens a lot around him. She says things she shouldn’t or never has.

“How did that work out for you?” He doesn’t even try to suppress the amusement. “I can’t really imagine you sitting down to tea or learning to waltz.”

She smiles, but it feels foreign. “I was furious. I wanted stay home with Miguel and Lupe, but I was back in less than three months.”

“I assume you didn’t give them much of a choice.”

“Let’s just say I can be very destructive if I have to be, and I can waltz very well by the way.”

He smiles at her, but it disappears as they hear an engine off in the distance. Their eyes meet.

“You know what to do?” He says.

She nods. “I’m going up the other side. Stay here until I give you the signal. Let them think I’m alone.”

She scrambles up the hill, her boots fighting for purchase on the slippery slope. The jungle is dense, and she fights her way through the vines. She hides behind a bush, scoping the road. The bus chugs along and the gears grind as the driver shifts down to make the turn. The bus shudders when it rounds the bend.

The light bounces off the windscreen, and she squints trying to see who is driving, but the dappled shade dances across the window impeding her view and she waits until the last possible moment before she steps into the road.

“What the hell are you doing?” Drew hisses from the other side of the road.

“Stopping the bus.” She hisses back.  

“That was not what we discussed.”

“I didn’t like your plan.”

“You could have mentioned that earlier.”

The ancient yellow bus seems to deflate as it grinds to a halt, sliding on the wet road and coming to a stop a foot short of Joy.

Her eyes rest on Padre’s face - tired, lined, but alive. Relief wells up and she smiles, but he doesn’t smile back. Behind him the kids are frozen in their seats, expressionless. Motionless. No one calls her name. No is happy to see her.


He shakes his head, tears well in his eyes. His knuckles tight around the steering wheel.

“Go away.” He shouts. “Run, Joy. Run, while you can.” His voice is muffled by the interior of the bus.

“It’s ok, Padre. It’s over. You are safe. The kids are safe.” She calls back.

Padre slumps and turns to look back. She can’t hear what they’re saying or who is talking. The door of the bus folds back with a clang and a thin figure slinks out of the bus, hopping off the last step.

“Niñita!” Holding up both hands, his pistol waving around his head. “I am so happy to see you.”

Joy’s words catch in her throat. She looks up and down trying to convince herself that it’s real. That he is real.


“Si, niñita. Have you forgotten me, already?”

“Never. I’d never…” she walks toward him, opening her arms wide as he steps into her embrace.

She hugs her brother. It feels like home. Like Safety. This is what she has been wanting. The familiar safety of his presence. She closes her eyes and leans closer.

“I’m so glad you got my message.”

“Message?” She pulls back to look at him.

His hand tangles in her pony tail. She resists the urge to cry out as he grabs hold of her hair and yanks her head back.

“You fucking selfish bitch.”

Joy flinches, the whiskey heavy on his breath.

“Miguel, I…”

He pulls harder. “You left me there.” He pushes his gun into her cheek, the barrel cold against her skin.

“I had no-,” she mumbles, wracking her brain for a way out. A way to convince him.

“I had to go alone, Miguel.

He pulls her head back further bringing her face closer to his.

“Can I tell you what he did to me?” He digs the barrel deeper into her cheek.

He lets up as movement in the treeline draws his attention. He pulls the gun away and points it at the trees. She moves her jaw already tender and promising to bruise. He keeps her close.  

“Let her go.” Drew steps in the road, gun level, finger on the trigger.

Miguel actually breaks into a big idiotic smile. “Drew, dude! Good to see you my man.”

He tugs at her hair again, tightens his grip and turns her towards Drew. 

Drew knows Miguel? Her brain isn’t working. How does Drew know Miguel? It doesn’t make sense.

“Let her go, Miguel.” Drew moves closer with careful steps, his gaze narrowed to the site of his gun.

“You found her, dude. I see you worked it. Good piece of meat.” He tugs her hair harder and thrust his hips at her.

Joy slams her elbow into Miguel’s ribs. He grimaces before ramming the butt of his pistol into her temple.

Dazed, she blinks trying to steady herself.

“You fucking whore.” Miguel wheezes, as he rubs his ribs with the back of his free hand.

“Miguel, let her go. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

“How could it be? Tell me, Drew. Can we all be friends? Let’s go back and get Carlos to adopt you too.” Miguel says, a manic glint in his eye.  

“I’m sorry I left. I had to.” Joy says hoping to distract him.

“Why would I care that you left?”

“Padre told me about Carlos, about what he did after I left.”

“You know nothing about it.” Miguel bellows and shoves her into the grill on the front of the bus. Her face pushes up against the windscreen.

Padre hasn’t moved, their eyes lock, tears run over the creases on his face. Behind him the children sit, two by two on the narrow seats. No one moves.

“You know nothing about what he did to me and it was all because of you. Because his little girl ran away.” He whispers into her ear, forcing his weight onto her. “All he ever wanted was for you to be just like him. Turns out you never had the stomach for it, but it seems that I have. Do you like my little gift?” He points barrel in the direction of the children.

She headbutts him and pushes back, taking him by surprise. He makes an odd squeak noise as her heel meets his groin with a soft squelch. He staggers. Her fist hits his jaw making his head snap. He hits the ground. She pulls back for the next blow, but Drew grabs her arm and pulls her off him.

She heaves, sucking in air to calm herself. “How do you know Miguel?” She shoves Drew.

He doesn’t budge. “I met him when I went to Padre to find out about you.” Drew runs his hand through his hair. “He was in Padre’s clinic and we spent a lot of time talking about you. I used him, because I had to get to you.”

“What did he tell you?”


Joy’s world shrinks. Everything she shared with him, everything she thought she was sharing for the first time, was a lie. He was mocking her, feigning interest. He was using her to get to Carlos. But she knew this? That was what she was doing with him, but it felt, off, somehow.

He frowns. “You okay?”

She pulls her arm from his grasp. “I’m fine. What’s it to you?”

He backs off and walks towards the bus. “We can talk about this later. We’ve got a bigger problem.” Drew says over his shoulder, holstering his weapon.

She follows him. Padre is still behind the wheel. No one has moved. She steps up into the bus behind Drew.

“Go.” Padre says, his voice hoarse.

That is when she sees it. The wires.  A small cable linking each seat, attached to small squares of C-4.

“It’s rigged to blow if they get up.”

She searches their little faces, their tears long dry. She inhales once, twice. Taking stock.

“I can diffuse it.”

“It looks complicated. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s as if it’s Miguel own design.”

“It’s not his design.”

“Whose then?”

Her voice is hollow. “Mine,” she knows she only has one chance.

Here is the seventh prompt for the 2018 challenge:

If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

 by Mia Botha

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