Distinctive Markings – Submit Your Fifth Short Story For 2018 Today


Number five is up. Well done, writers. One more story and then we’re half way. 

Submission process:

I will accept and approve posts for Distinctive Markings (Word count: 1200 words) from 16 May 2018, 8:00 (Johannesburg time | GMT +2:00), until 17 May 2018, 8:00 (Johannesburg time | GMT +2:00) on 12shortstories.com.  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 com.
  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 Crucifix by Mia Botha

Prompt: Distinctive markings | Word count: 1200 words exactly | Genre: Action

Warning: Violence.

The jeep jumps from rut to rut. Joy stares ahead, the jungle a blur of green. She chews her thumbnail and doesn’t take her eyes off the road.

Drew shifts the gear lever, his eyes darting between the road and her. She avoids his gaze and prays she won’t cry.

“I still think we should call the office. They can have back up here in a few hours.”

“It’ll be too late.” She snaps. “We’re already too late.”

They skid around a slippery corner and Drew corrects the steering but doesn’t slow down. “Won’t be long now.” He says.

She nods but can’t bring herself to speak. She unwraps the crucifix, small pieces of tissue tear off where it sticks to the dried blood. She scans the jungle, looking for the path.

“Stop here.” She says.

Drew pulls over and they jump out of the jeep. They jog along the road before Joy darts down a small path and leads him deeper into the jungle.

She moves fast paying little mind to the branches whipping past her. The sting of the plants on her arms and face spurring her on.

“How are we dealing with this?” Drew asks, catching up to her. He tries to hold the branch out of her way, but she runs faster down the narrow path forcing him to fall back.

“I need to get close. Once I know what is going I’ll make a plan.”

“What can you tell me about the layout?” he asks.

Joy stops for a moment. It is like Drew becomes someone else. The palm print cliché disappears, and he becomes the agent he is supposed to be.

She shakes off the unease and explains, “The orphanage is built around a courtyard. The main entry way is a big arch with dormitories on the second floor. There is a mess hall on the bottom right, class rooms on the left, with a play room for the kids behind the mess hall. A second arch leads out of the other side of the courtyard. The chapel is through the second arch, behind the main building.”

Joy stops and holds up her hand, listening, she waves him forward and ducks behind a tree as the orphanage comes into sight. Drews nods and pulls his pistol from the band of his jeans. They crouch behind a bush, trying to see as much as possible without alerting anyone. Joy slides the magazine into her gun, the gentle click as a bullet slides into the chamber is the only sound.

Joy scans the scene. “No one is here.”

“It’s completely deserted.” Drew says.

“We have to get closer. I need to see what is going on.”

They crawl towards the building, the silence eerie. No laughing children. Not even a bird squawking.

They peer through the windows making their way around the building. The desks are arranged in rows, the dishes stacked in the kitchen, the mess hall clean. Not a trace of the children, the nuns or Padre. Joy works hard to keep her breathing even.

“Has this happened before? Would they all go somewhere?”

Joy tears her eyes away from the stacks of bright plastic plates. “No, never. He always said they should go on holiday, but he’s never done it. Maybe he finally listened, maybe they went on holiday, but this feels wrong. He would have sent word. Made plans.” Joy spins to Drew. “The bus! Maybe they took the bus.”

She rushes out of the building. Her heels echoing against the empty walls of the courtyard. Drew barrels after her.

Joy reaches the barn and pulls the door. The heavy wood door creaks and she swings it so wide that it crashes into the wall. A hysterical laugh bubbles up. There is nothing inside the dark barn.

“They’ve gone.” She grins. “He did it. They went away.”

Drew flings opens the second door flooding the barn with light. Joy gasps and Drew turns towards the sound. She sinks to the ground clutching her stomach, gagging on the bile.

The priest swings from the rafters, swaying gently. His black robe hangs over his head. A pale belly hags below dark shorts, his white socks pulled half way up his calves. He has been strung up by his ankles. Blood pools under the priest, dripping from his fingers drop by lazy drop.

Joy sits on the floor in a square of weak sunlight. She doesn’t make a sound. Drew hovers near her, but she holds up her hand. He moves around the barn instead, moving closer to the body. A faint grunt draws his attention. He looks up and sees the finger twitch, barely. It moves again.

“He’s alive.” Drew says.

“Oh my…get him down. Get him down.” Joy springs into action. She rushes towards the end of the barn.

“A ladder, we need something. How did they get up there?”

They scurry around the barn, searching the dark corners. “Here.” Drew shouts. They move the ladder into place and Drew climbs up.

He wrestles the black robes hanging over the priest’s head out of his face, clawing his way closer to the rafters. Balancing on the top of the ladder Drew hacks through the thick rope with his knife. Joy tries holding onto the robes, trying to keep the body still, but as the rope frays and the body spins.

“It’s not him.” Joy shrieks. “It’s not Padre.”

“What?” Drew sputters.

“He has a tattoo. On his calf. This is not Padre. Padre doesn’t have tattoos”

“But who is this?”

Joy stands on her toes, but she can’t lift the robes high enough to see. “I don’t know. Get him down.”

The rope gives and Drew tries to hold it up. The body thumps to the ground. Joy scrambles to uncover his face.

“Father Lawrence.” she cries.

Drew squats beside her. The priest’s face is purple and swollen from the blood pooled in his head. “He must have been upside down for hours.”

“Father Lawrence, can you hear me?”

“He needs water.” Drew runs out to the kitchen and returns with a bottle of water. He soaks the hem of the priest’s robe and presses the wet fabric to his lips.

Father Lawrence’s lips move, the drops of water run down his chin. Joy wipes it softly.

His eyelids flutter. “Joy.” He whispers.

“What happened, Father? Where are they?” Joy holds his hand.

“Gone.” Father Lawrence pants.

“Safe?” She raises her eyebrows fighting the building panic.

“No.”

She looks up at Drew. “Bloody Carlos. He will pay…”

“Not Carlos.” Father Lawrence interrupts her in a hoarse whisper.

She stares at him. “Who then? Who would take the children?”

“Not Carlos…” he whispers again as his hand falls from hers. His chest shudders as he exhales for the last time.

Drew comes to sit next to her, but she only stares at Father Lawrence.

“I’ve called the office. They’ll start looking for the children.”

She nods.

“They’re on their way here. We can get a head start.”

Joy pulls the crucifix from her pocket. She unwraps it again and puts it in Father Lawrence’s hand.

“Let’s go.” She walks out of the barn.

Here is the sixth 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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