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A White Crow

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A White Crow

Richelle Renae

A White Crow is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2017 by Richelle Renae

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer and leave feedback. Thank you for your support. For permission requests, email “Attention: Permissions Coordinator” at:

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Cover photo: Pixabay/Unsplash

A White Crow

Read Write Ponder Series

Contents

Read

Write

Ponder

How to Use this Book

Are you a reader? Writer? Thinker? This book has been designed for whichever you are.

Read

Mac and Lisa are a young, recently engaged couple still working out the kinks of their new relationship and coming to terms with the challenges of living together in the big city. When Mac casually borrows the one item that Lisa attributes all her success to, both their lives are dramatically affected.

A White Crow explores the notion of luck and the dependency of relying on it for success.

Write

Every story starts with a single idea. The story prompt used by the author to write this story is included in the Write section of this book. Writers can review the prompt and see where their creativity takes them. Prompts can be used to develop characters, plot scenes, or write an entire novel. What can you create?

Ponder

Along with a handful of discussion questions, the author has written a note to readers and writers about her own process in writing this story. By sharing her process, the author hopes to open a dialog that will help writers explore the depths of their creativity. It is her sincerest hope that she inspires others because all people have stories to tell.

 

 

A White Crow

A lucky man is rarer than a white crow.

Juvenal

Mac shook his hair out and frowned. Drops of water covered the mirror and raced through the fog for the sink. For half a heartbeat, he considered leaving the streaks for Lisa, but he just didn’t have time to do battle. But Saturday was coming, and Saturday mornings were made for finding some small way to goad her into an argument. It was the one day of the week they could match wits, and then he could take his time making up with her under the bed covers.

Today, though, he just didn’t have time. Once again, he had slept through the alarm. With a swipe of a towel, he cleared the beads of water and fog from the mirror and admired his chest, still muscled a year after his last day of training for college football. He leaned in closer to look at the dark circles that puddled under his bloodshot eyes. Late nights studying at the law library were taking their toll.

The sting of eye drops made Mac hiss. The liquid that didn’t make it into his sinuses rolled down his cheeks like tears. He snatched a tube from inside the cabinet, squeezed a dab of gel into his hands, and smoothed back some of the wild, sandy blond strands curling at his temples.

“Late again?” Lisa swatted his bare butt as she walked by the open door on her way to the kitchen for coffee.

“Always,” he said. He stuck his head out the door and admired her pajamaed curves. “Would be better if we could drive our car.”

Mac had griped about not having a car closer to their apartment from the first day he had moved in with her. Their flat inside the heart of the city had no parking garage of its own and the closest one that wouldn’t break their budget was more than two miles away. Everyone had a car in the midwestern town where he grew up. It wasn’t the discomfort of waiting at the bus stops in the damp chill of the October air. Shoot, gun season hadn’t even started yet. He could sit in a snow-covered tree stand all day dressed in little more than a sweatshirt and his winter camo. No, it was the inconvenience of having to depend on someone else to get him around the city.

Mac squeezed the toothpaste too hard and it fell off his brush into the sink. He growled and scooped it onto his brush. After a few quick brushes and a swipe of the toothbrush across his tongue, he rinsed and dropped the brush with a plink into a jelly glass in the cabinet. A speck of toothpaste mocked him from his stubbled chin. He dashed it away, and then snatched a brush from a drawer to drag through his damp hair. A pink, elastic hair band was wrapped around the handle of the brush like a good omen. He wouldn’t need to make a mad dash looking everywhere for one of his own rubber bands. With a quick flick of his wrist, he pulled the pink band around his mass of long curls. Well, not too long. Lisa had said when they first started dating that she wasn’t looking for a Fabio, so he kept his hair trimmed to shoulder length.

“Nobody who lives in the city drives their own car to work. Too much traffic to deal with and there’s no place to park.” Lisa walked in and sat down on the toilet lid with both hands wrapped around her coffee mug. “We’ll get a new place once you have your degree. Is that my hair tie?”

“Was on the counter. I gotta run.” Mac headed toward the bedroom to get dressed.

“No, you gotta find a different hair tie.”

Mac didn’t stop. “What? No. I’m late.”

Lisa’s feet rapped a quick tattoo as she rushed in behind him. She had abandoned her cup in the bathroom and stood with both hands on her hips. “I’m serious.”

“What are you talking about?” Mac snatched a shirt over his head and pulled on a pair of pants. The bed squeaked as he sat down on the edge and slipped his feet into a pair of black sneakers. He didn’t bother tying them. “Lisa, I’m late.”

Lisa pounced on the bed and made a grab for Mac’s hair, but he ducked and stood up, then leaned away as she swiped at him again. Her face had turned a mottled red and Mac wondered why she was getting so riled up over some stupid hair tie. Especially, when she knew he needed to get out the door to catch the Madison Ave bus. If he didn’t catch that one, he’d be too late, maybe even fired.

She jumped from the bed and grabbed his shirt. “It’s mine. It’s my lucky hair tie.”

“Why are you acting so weird about this?” He brushed past her. “I gotta go.”

“No.” She stepped between him and the door and put her hand out.

“Really? This is what’s important right now? Now? When I’m late?” He pushed by her through the door.

Lisa’s elbow thumped against frame. “Ow!”

“Sorry,” he mumbled without turning around. “I’ll give it back later.”

“I just want my hair tie back.” Her voice bounced off the walls and followed him down the hallway where he snatched a camouflaged coat from the hook by the entryway. The bathroom door slammed behind him.

*****

Lisa held her breath. She counted to ten, and then opened the door to hover with her ear to the crack. Other than the measured drip of the shower at her back, the apartment was quiet. The hinges pleaded for a drop of oil as she opened the door wider and stuck her head into the hallway. It was empty.

As she walked across the room, she chewed a fingernail. In the last week, all her nails had been whittled down until they bled at the corners, so it was no surprise when she tasted blood. Through the front door, the muffled ding of a bell announced the elevator, and Lisa froze. She waited a heartbeat, then swiftly moved to her coat and reached inside a pocket to extract a pink and white box.

The instructions on the back of the package were incomplete, so she opened the box and dug out the sheet of paper. As she padded back to the bathroom, she tucked the box under her arm and unfolded the page. She read it top to bottom, then flipped it over to read the other side. Her single year of high school Spanish was not going to help her read page two. Lisa pressed the paper flat on the counter and willed her hands to stop trembling. The applicators rattled against the sides of the box as she tipped one into her hand.

“Just pee on the stick.” She swallowed hard and stared at the stranger in the mirror. “Go ahead. Have your fortune told.”

With two quick motions, she pulled her pajama bottoms down and flipped open the toilet lid to sit. Goosebumps broke out on the tops of her thighs from the cold of the seat, and she sat clutching the pregnancy test while she waited for the urge to pee. The last bit of fingernail on her free hand found its way between her teeth. After a moment, she pulled the cap from the applicator and held it between her legs while the dribble of urine played a cheerless melody. She slowly replaced the cap while she stared at the moisture that leaked up and spread across the results window. Two pink lines crisscrossed while Lisa held her breath. She gently laid the applicator on the counter.

Despite the heat that flooded her face and neck, she shivered.

A second applicator peeked at her from the box. If the second test was negative…well, if it was negative, Lisa knew she’d have to make another trip to the pharmacy because how could she trust either one? If it was positive, though…

She shook out the second applicator and pulled off the cap, then waited with it poised between her legs. Nothing. Not even a drop. She looked into the toilet and wondered if the test would work correctly if she dunked it in the water.

“You’re dumb. Try again after a shower.” She capped the applicator with a click. As she swung around to crank on the hot water, she banged her toes against the tub. “Damn it!”

Tears raced into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks while the room filled with steam.

How the hell was she going to tell Mac?

*****

At the bus stop, Mac bent down and picked up a book. It had slipped from under the arm of a stooped, elderly woman who clutched a bag brimming with clothes. On the cover was a group of happy teens with their arms around each other.

The woman held out her arm like a wounded bird’s wing. Mac smiled and tucked the book under it.

“Millennials in the Millennium?” he asked.

A laugh rolled up from the woman’s belly carrying the same timbre as Mac’s grandmother’s. It tugged at the place in his heart where homesickness lived.

“I’m trying to get a handle on my grandkids. Silly, right?”

“Not at all. It sometimes feels like a strange world to me, and I’m part of that group.” He reached forward to retrieve her bag as the Madison Ave bus glided to a stop before them. “May I?”

“Oh, thank you!” She held out the bag to him. “Clothes for the shelter. My husband’s. He died, you know.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he replied, but it was lost in the hiss of the bus door opening.

“I just didn’t have the heart to do anything with them after he passed. But it felt like it was time,” she said wistfully, as she took a seat behind the driver. She patted the seat beside her and Mac set the bag down. He took the next one. “Are you married?”

Mac laughed. “Oh, no. Lisa and I—that’s my fiancé—we aren’t really ready. She thinks we need to have careers first.”

“In my day, when you fell in love, you got married. You’re engaged, but you’re not ready?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief as she held her book aloft. “Maybe I’ll learn what that’s about in here.”

“Probably not. You’d have to know Lisa.” He held a hand out. “I’m Mac.”

“Oh, goodness! How rude of me!” She grasped his hand in the softness of both of her own, and Mac wondered briefly what kept the wrinkled skin from sliding right off of her bones. “Ruth.”

The bus stopped, and more people clambered out of the cold to huddle around the driver to scan their cards or pay. A man with dreadlocks, and a cap with the flattest brim Mac had ever seen, slouched into a seat opposite them. He threw an arm up over the back of his seat and twisted to watch out the window.

Mac yawned and relaxed into his own seat.

“You kids all get up so early to go to work,” Ruth said.

The man with dreads turned his head and nodded at her. “You said it.”

“Where do you work so early?”

Mac opened his mouth to answer, but the man across the aisle beat him to the punch.

“Donut shop. Time to make the donuts,” he drawled.

“Danny’s on 5th? I know the owner well!” Ruth’s eyes had brightened, and her voice took on a conspiratorial tone as she leaned forward to add, “Though he doesn’t let us call it a donut place. It’s a dessert boutique. Crotchety old man.”

Ruth had leaned so far forward, Mac was sure she was going to fall. He reached out a hand to stop her from tumbling, but then felt silly, and tucked it back into his coat pocket.

“No, ma’am, not Danny’s. I don’t think they’d hire someone like me.” The man turned back to his window.

“Well, why not? You’re up early to go to work. That shows commitment.”

He looked over his shoulder at her and said flatly, “I’m an ex-con.”

“Pshaw!” Ruth replied. “Did you do your time?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then you should be able to work anywhere Mac right here works.”

Mac felt his face heat up. His eyes dropped to stare at the man’s black tennis shoes that looked like his own, but newer. His job sure wasn’t one to hold a candle to. He had taken the first job he could find after moving into the city, and that meant washing dishes at a tiny diner for minimum wage and splitting tips with the wait staff when they didn’t pocket them on the sly.

Ruth grabbed her purse and dug out a pencil and paper. She scribbled a note on it, and then held it in the man’s direction. “You take this down to Danny’s and tell him Ruth sent you.”

Mac eyed the paper with envy and watched the man read it. Despite his quest for a future in law, the fantasy of walking into Danny’s, handing over the note, and being elevated from dishwasher to baker played out in his mind in the instant it passed hands.

“That’s…very kind of you. Nobody’s ever—” The man’s voice had gotten husky, but it broke with emotion. He took the paper, sat up straighter, and nodded at Ruth. “Thank you.”

The bus suddenly shifted direction and Ruth fell into the bag of clothes at her side. Mac made a wild grab at the back of his seat and reached out to catch Ruth as she rolled to the floor. He swung his leg to cushion her fall as he slammed into the window, but saw her head bang hard near his foot. Light and dark and light flashed as he flew across the aisle. Pain lit up his elbow and raced into his neck while a roar of wind and a screeching of tires screamed in his ears.

Silence.

A ringing yawned out from deep inside his head, and pain like Mac had never known before enveloped him. Mac recalled from some dark recess in his mind a medieval torture device used to dissolve a person’s brain by forcing boiling water into the victim’s ears.

He opened his eyes.

*****

Lisa paced the entryway of the apartment building, glancing out the window each time she neared. Carpooling was a million times better than riding the bus as far as she was concerned. The bus always felt cold, and the strangers who stared and tried to talk to her gave her the creeps. She felt fortunate that she worked in a large call center and had found people she could tolerate, even if she didn’t exactly like them. Which made Mac partially right. It would be nice when they could afford some place that had a garage for their car.

A car finally pulled up to the curb, and Lisa rushed through the cold air to rip open the back door. A man twice her age and half her height slid away toward a woman wearing earphones. The woman on the far side didn’t bother looking up from her phone, but the man smiled and gave a little wave. “Morning, Lisa.”

“Morning, Bill.” She slid in beside him and slammed the door. “Morning, Gwen.”

“Good Thursday morning, Sweetie!” Gwen sang out from the driver’s seat. She was always happy and spent most of the morning commute trying to get everyone to sing along with whatever was playing on the radio. When she didn’t know the song, she’d make up lyrics about her no-account, lazy husband who sat home on his ass all day while she went to work. Every once in a while, the lyrics would stick with Lisa all day, and she’d find herself singing them while she prepared dinner for herself and Mac.

Lisa straightened her skirt. “Damn it!”

Gwen caught her eye in the rearview mirror. “What’s the matter, honey?”

“Run in my stupid nylons.” Lisa shoved her bag against the door and leaned forward to pull off her boots. She elbowed Bill as she reached up under her skirt and pulled her nylons down. “Sorry. I just can’t—uh! Not today.”

Bill waggled his eyebrows up and down and grinned at her. “No worries. I’m going to be hard pressed not to put a snag in them tomorrow myself.”

“Funny,” Lisa said as she crumpled the offensive nylons into a ball and shoved them into her purse. She gave Bill a cold smile, and he held up both hands in self-defense.

He gave her a sympathetic smile. “Not a good morning?”

She snorted. “Hardly.”

“Mac?”

“How’d you know?”

Bill rubbed his knuckles on the collar of his jacket. “I guess you haven’t noticed how smart I am. You really need to get past my good looks.”

“He took my hair tie this morning.”

“Your…hair tie?”

“Oh, not just any hair tie. My lucky pink hair tie.” She whipped her head to the side and her ponytail slapped Bill in the face. “I had to use a plain old black one today.”

Bill squinted at her. “What’s lucky about it? The pink one.”

Lisa snatched her nylons out of her purse and held them forth as evidence. Bill reached forward, and she snatched them back.

“Oh, no you don’t, little man.” She shoved them back into her purse. “Who knows what nefarious way you’d use them.”

Gwen laughed from the front. “He wouldn’t use them to rob a bank, that’s for sure! C’mon, everyone. Sing along! What’s luck got to do. Got to do with it? What’s luck—”

“But a second-hand emotion!” Bill chimed in, and the two of them finished the chorus together.

Their play on words wasn’t lost on Lisa, and she couldn’t help but laugh. She threw her hands over her ears and shouted at them, “This is not what I’d consider good luck!”

As the song wrapped up, the radio announcer started into the news. “Drivers headed to work this morning should find an alternate route if they normally take Mad—”

Gwen switched the station.

*****

The man with dreadlocks lay face to face with Mac. Mac fought against a fatigue that was drawing him back into the black hole he’d just come from. He forced his eyes to focus on the man staring at him.

A hat.

The man should have a hat.

Instead he had a crown of rainbows and roses. Broken glass. And blood. A single drop slowly slid over the man’s brow to pool at the corner of one eye. Tiny capillaries reached out toward the man’s iris where Mac could see lighter golden flecks in the dark brown. The man’s hand lay flat and his head rested on it as if he had decided to take a quick break. The man never blinked.

“Hey.” Mac’s voice came out in a scratchy whisper that he could barely hear over the ringing that raged in his ears. He couldn’t swallow, and the side of his face burned. He had once given himself razor burn by shaving with a dull blade, and his face felt like that now. Raw. Hot. He realized his hands were pinned below him and rolled to extract one. A groan erupted from him as pain exploded in a flash of light so bright he had to close his eyes against it. He froze and waited for the pain to draw back.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw the corner of Ruth’s note under the man’s hand. “Ruth?”

A chunk of glass fell with a crunch somewhere behind Mac. The engine of the bus was ticking in the cold air. Ruth didn’t answer. He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look at the dead man and tried again. “Ruth?”

Mac started to cry. The warm tears stung against his hot cheek. “I’m sorry, Ruth. I’m so sorry.”

Careful not to touch the dead man, Mac reached out and gently tugged the note from under his hand. Ruth’s jittery cursive filled the square.

Dear Daniel,

Please give this young man a chance.

Your loving sister,

Ruth

Tears came harder, and with them, a nagging pain behind his ear. Mac pulled the pink hair tie from his hair. The loud crinkle of paper in his ear kept him grounded as another wave of pain washed through his head. This time, though, the pain didn’t go away. It had set its claws and was flexing them in small pulses.

Mac fought through the fear that whispered to him. He wasn’t dying. He had to get to work. He was late. And Ruth. Ruth needed him.

Using his teeth, he slipped the pink elastic tie over the paper clutched in his hand and tugged it down around his wrist. The band was tinged in red where it ran over the vein that spidered down his thumb and disappeared into his arm. “Bleeding. I think I’m bleeding, Ruth.”

He reached up and felt around. Close to his ear, his hand bumped something, and the pain roared out again in anger. Mac gasped and started counting. Counting was something his mother had taught him to do when he was younger. Count away the pain. Focus on the numbers. One. One is a straight line up and down. It doesn’t wiggle. It doesn’t frown. Two. Two tries to giggle, but then sits straight. Three is a smile, and has a mate. By four, the pain was usually gone. But this pain wasn’t. This pain was a wretched, angry beast clawing at his brain.

Ruth’s pencil.

Ruth’s pencil was embedded in Mac’s skull just behind his ear. His hair had wrapped around it when he took the hair band off, but he could feel the worn nub of the eraser at the top and the tight skin around the wood where it bit into his scalp. The world went black.

*****

Lisa stuck her purse into a drawer at her cubicle and turned the key in the lock with a click. She wrapped the black, spiral bracelet it was attached to around her wrist. A rash of stolen items at the call center, long before she had ever started working there, had prompted the locking cabinets under the desks, and every new user received a key to their cabinet instead of a key to an office. Lisa had waved her key at Mac after her first day, and they had a good laugh about how she was moving up in the world and would soon have a whole fob filled with office keys. But four months later, she was still stuck in her cubby without a proper coat hook, or even a letter ‘E’ on the keyboard.

“Lisa!”

Lisa jumped. Her cube neighbor on the opposite side of the divider had popped up her head and was laughing.

“Christy! Stop doing that to me! I swear, I am going to have a heart-attack one of these days, and you’re going to have to call 9-1-1 and tell them what you did.” Lisa draped her coat onto her chair and turned on her computer.

“Aw, you love me, and you know it.”

Lisa frowned at her. “No, I don’t.”

“Really?” Christy asked. “What about if I…”

The top of a coffee cup appeared at the edge of the divider. Christy slowly raised it higher and higher and made it dance like a marionette. In a high-pitched taunt, she said, “How you like me now, baby cakes?”

“Oh, God, I do. I love you.”

Christy held it above the divider. “That’s what I thought!”

Lisa reached for it, but as her hand felt the warmth from the cup, Christy let go and it hit the divider. Both women made a wild grab to rescue it. Lisa caught it, but not before the lid popped off and hot coffee spilled across her hand and soaked the sleeve of her shirt.

“Sorry! I thought you had it!” Christy grabbed a box of tissues from her desk and pulled out a handful.

“Ow ow ow ow ow!” Lisa switched the cup into her other hand to set it down, and held out the wet one to Christy who wrapped it lightly in tissues.

“Are you okay? Are you burned?” Christy shoved her computer to the side and climbed onto her desk so she could lean over and wipe at the spilled coffee.

“I’m fine…it’s just going to be one of those days,” Lisa said with a sigh.

“Well, we all have those.”

“Yeah. It started with a fight this morning with Mac, then I had a run in my nylons. Now this.” Lisa took the box from Christy and pulled out more tissues to finish wiping off her desk and phone.

“What did you fight about?”

“What? Oh, it was stupid. We had a fight over my hair tie,” Lisa said ruefully.

“That does sound stupid. Unless it was the only hair tie in the whole apartment.”

“No! But it’s my lucky hair tie. And he didn’t ask to use it, he just took it like it was no big deal.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Christy was mocking Lisa, and Lisa knew it. They had been down this road before and had even had words once over the fact that Christy wasn’t a very empathetic friend. She never had sympathy for what she thought was Lisa’s silly little problems, and she liked to say things like, “I met a man once from Chile who didn’t have a nose,” to provide perspective. Within a couple weeks of meeting Christy, Lisa realized that most of what she complained about really was silly and rarely worth suffering over.

“No, there’s nothing you can do to help,” Lisa snapped. “It’s not just any hair tie. You don’t understand.”

“Okay. But, let the record show, I tried.” She took the tissue box back from Lisa and climbed down off her desk.

“My dad gave it to me. My softball team was headed to State finals and he gave me a big stuffed teddy bear with a tee shirt on. Remember how, when we were kids, we used to use our hair ties to cinch up our tee-shirts around the waist? Well, my bear had this pink hair tie cinching up his shirt. I couldn’t find any that morning when I was ready to go, even though my floor was probably covered with them, so I grabbed the one off my bear. We won.” Lisa paused. She was waiting for Christy to react.

“That’s it? You think the hair tie was the reason you won? Not that you had an bad ass team that worked really hard?”

“I told you, you wouldn’t understand. It wasn’t just that game. Every time something big comes up, I wear it. I was valedictorian of my graduating class. I was accepted to U of M. I won the Milton Harsgard Scholarship. Mac asked me to marry him even though we’re both broke as hell.” Lisa was ticking off fingers. “I got this job.”

“Okay, wait. All those things are because you are incredible. That isn’t luck. And this job?” Christy waved her hands around at their desks. Their coworkers were taking their seats around them, starting up computers, and putting on headsets. “This job sucks, so that one really isn’t flying.”

“But I met you. That was the luckiest thing of all.”

“Oh, well. There’s that. Okay, maybe I’ve overlooked just how lucky a lucky pink hair tie can be.”

“I’m pregnant,” Lisa blurted out. She slapped her hand over her mouth in dismay and looked to see if anyone else had heard her proclamation.

“You’re…?”

Lisa nodded and spoke from behind her hands. “I found out this morning.”

Christy was back on her desk and hanging over the divider. She pulled Lisa into a hug. “That’s so exciting! Does Mac know?”

Lisa shook her head and chewed her lip. Tears had sprung into her eyes. “He told me he didn’t want kids right away. Not until he finishes law school and we both establish careers.”

“Well, screw that. He’ll just have to deal.” Tears slipped down Lisa’s face, and Christy grabbed a tissue from the box. “Seriously. Don’t turn this into something it’s not. Just talk to him.”

“Let’s go, kids! Get to work!” The supervisor had come out of his office and was walking toward them. Christy jumped off her desk and winked at Lisa as she put her headset on. Lisa sank into her chair.

*****

It was the bump the gurney made as it rolled over the frame of the emergency room door that woke Mac up and brought a groan from deep within. When he moved to reach for the pain behind his ear, he realized both arms were pinned. He tried to lift his head, but it was strapped to the gurney. His vision blurred like he was underwater.

A hand with a glittering wedding ring swam up from the side of the gurney to stroke his cheek, and a soft voice above him said, “Shhh. Don’t move. You’re at the hospital. You were in a bus accident, and we need you to stay calm. Okay?”

“Ruth?” he asked.

“What’s that, sweetie?” Brown eyes with a crease between them came into view. “What did you say?”

Mac’s eyes rolled back into his head. Voices were rolling in and out like the tide. With his eyes closed, he followed her voice around the room. She was at the top of his bed, then beside him, then at his feet. Mac couldn’t understand what she was saying.

Bus accident.

Trauma.

Something pricked his arm.

A man’s voice. Demanding. Ordering people around. Like a drill sergeant. Mac tried to open his eyes, but the lids were too heavy. The voices were getting further away. He searched the room for her voice until he found it. She was still at the foot of his bed. He could feel her hand on his ankle.

Lone survivor.

Ruth. Don’t let me go.

Contusion.

Pencil.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

*****

Lisa tapped away at a computer. She paused and lifted a cup to her lips, then blanched at the last cold bitter sips. She dropped the paper cup into the trash and grabbed a ceramic mug from her desk.

“Coffee?” she mouthed at Christy when she looked over the divider.

Christy pointed to her headset and rolled her eyes, then gave her a wave to go ahead without her. Lisa winked back and headed down the hall to the break room. Bill was standing on his tiptoes at the back of a small crowd edged around the old box television set.

“What’s going on?” Lisa asked, as she came up behind him.

“Accident. Some nut job ran a light and the idiot bus driver swerved. Bus hit the curb, and when the SUV hit it, the bus rolled.”

“Horrible,” said a woman, as she pushed her way from the front. “Lucky it was the early bus.”

As the group shifted, Lisa could see the scene. A bus lay on its side behind a reporter wrapped in a scarf and wearing over-sized gloves. First responders were rushing around. Off to one side, a body that had been pulled from the wreckage was strapped to a gurney. Black tennis shoes poked from the end of the white sheet.

“Moments ago, they cut open the back of the bus, and they’re now in the process of extracting everyone. It appears the bus driver swerved to avoid this vehicle—” The camera panned to a crumpled SUV “—and then rolled onto its side. So far, there have been no survivors, but there are more people still inside. The driver is—hold on! It seems like they’re trying to get someone’s attention.”

A coworker closer to the television turned up the volume. A man waved wildly from the back of the bus, and two more emergency personnel rushed forward with an empty gurney. A police officer ran up with a board, and it disappeared into the bus. The news camera stayed with the back of the bus while the reporter quietly cited statistics about the miracle of the low number of bus accidents in the city.

The end of the board reappeared and four people maneuvered it around to get it to the gurney. The weight of the body and the narrow opening of the bus doors posed a challenge and a fifth man rushed in to assist. The man strapped face down on the gurney wore a camouflaged jacket.

“What bus is that?” Lisa whispered hoarsely.

“Mad Ave,” said Bill. “Lisa? Are you okay?”

Lisa’s coffee cup exploded in the hush of the room. Fragments of ceramic flew in every direction. A bright red drop of blood ran down her leg.

*****

Lisa sat in the emergency room. A little girl danced by with a doll, and Lisa wondered if perhaps she was an angel. She looked at Christy to see if she saw the angel, but Christy was listening to a nurse explain that Mac was in surgery because a pencil was lodged in his brain. Lisa wondered if the woman had the right person and looked around the waiting room. Maybe there was someone else who looked like they would be with a person who had a pencil stuck in their head. Maybe a teacher. Or someone.

The nurse assured them that Dr. Chow was the best surgeon in the state and that Mac was in his very capable hands. As soon as she had more information, she’d be back.

“What did she say?” Lisa looked at Christy with wide, blank eyes. “What did she say?”

Christy put her arm around her. “He’s with Dr. Chow in surgery. He’s going to be alright.”

“She said that?” Lisa pulled away to look her friend in the eye. “She said he was going to be alright?”

“She said she’ll let us know soon.”

“He has a pencil in his brain? Where did Mac get a pencil?” Lisa asked. “Where did the pencil come from?”

“Shh. It’s okay. He’ll tell us himself soon. Okay?”

Another nurse was walking toward them. She had a large plastic bag that she held out as she neared. “Lisa?”

“Yes?”

“These are Mac’s belongings.”

Lisa’s eyes grew large. “Oh, my God. Did he—”

“He’s still in surgery with Dr. Chow. We just thought you could keep track of his items better than we can.” The nurse set the bag at Lisa’s feet, then sat down beside them. “How are you doing, hon? Do you need anything?”

“No!” Lisa snapped. She snatched the bag up to her lap, and then crumpled into Christy with a fresh set of tears. “I need Mac. That’s what I need.”

Christy mouthed to the nurse, “She’s okay.”

“I’ll check back on her in a few minutes,” the nurse said, as she stood up.

Christy kissed Lisa’s forehead and stroked her face, then reached behind her to the table where someone had left a box of tissues. “We sure are going through the tissues today.”

Lisa pulled away with a miserable smile and took a handful from the box. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t you dare be sorry. You’re just fine. You can use as many tissues as you want today.”

Lisa rocked back in her chair and stared at the television in the corner of the waiting room. “I knew it was him.”

“You knew what was him?” Christy asked.

“I knew it was Mac when they pulled him from the bus. It was his jacket.” She was fingering the camouflaged material at the top of the open bag. “Who wears camo in the city? Mac, that’s who. Mac, who’s wanted to move back to his boring, little mid-western town and buy a piece of property where he could have dogs and hunt for ducks and deer since the day he got to the city. Mac, who doesn’t want to raise babies in the city because they’d have to ride the subway to school. An exaggeration. Probably. Maybe.”

She pulled his coat from the bag and pressed her face into it. With her eyes closed, she drew a long, slow breath and smelled the wood smoke that didn’t seem to go away even though she’d washed the jacket twice since he’d moved in.

A slip of paper was caught in the crumpled material, and Lisa flattened it so she could read the handwriting.

Daniel? Who was Daniel? Who was Ruth?

“What’s that?” Christy asked. Lisa shrugged, and Christy took the note. “Who’s Ruth?”

Lisa shook her head. “A mistake? Someone else’s note from the bus?”

Christy laid it aside on the table.

Lisa snatched it back up. “What are you doing?”

“I–” Christy’s forehead crinkled in confusion. “I was going to throw it away.”

“It might be Mac’s. He might need it if he–” Tears slid off Lisa’s face into the bag on her lap. She snatched another tissue from the box and wiped her eyes and nose. “When.”

Lisa straightened the jacket and slid her arms into the sleeves.

Something rolled across her lap.

Their heads bumped as Christy and Lisa both reached out to catch it. Their eyes met. Lisa held her lucky pink hair tie.

 

Story Prompts

A White Crow

It’s amazing to me that the same objects can be placed in front of a group of people and each person in the group will imagine something different. This story prompt presents two people who appear unrelated. What story do you imagine unfolds as you read the descriptions below?

A young man with blond hair sits on a bus. He has his hair pulled into a bun with a pink elastic hair tie. He is wearing a camouflaged jacket.

A young woman stands in a jacket on the sidewalk of a busy city street. She has a slight frown on her face and seems to be waiting for someone.

Based on the story prompts, challenge yourself to ask questions and imagine answers.

Where is the man going? Where did he come from? Why is he riding the bus? Who or what is the woman waiting for? Is she going somewhere? What season is it? How are the two people related? Do they have something in common? How do their lives intertwine?

What other questions can you ask based on the few pieces of information you have here?

Bonus Prompt – Fortune Cookies

Next time you open a fortune cookie, use it as a writing prompt. Write about the best possible outcome for the fortune you were so lucky to select.

Roll the Dice

Roll a six-sided dice and set your main character for your fortune cookie story as one of the following:

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Yourself

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Your best friend

#
p<>{color:#000;}. A neighbor

#
p<>{color:#000;}. A grandparent

#
p<>{color:#000;}. A teenager

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Someone with whom you’ve worked

 

 

Discussion Questions

Is Lisa’s hair band lucky? Does luck exist? Are there different kinds of luck?

Have you ever had a day where your bad luck turned out to be a very fortunate turn of events in the long run?

How would you rewrite the ending?

Why do you think Mac took Ruth’s note? What clues about Mac’s personality are given in the story that provide evidence for the reason you provided?

We all have preconceived notions about people who are different from us or different from the people in our day-to-day lives. What are the biases that are touched on in this story?

What happens next…to Mac? To Lisa? To the note?

 

A Note From the Author

I took a free 8-week writing course on-line at FutureLearn (futurelearn.com) to study the craft of writing. Early in the course, an assignment was to review a short video of people in different stages of life and posed in different scenes from business offices, to cafes, to riding on the bus. From the video, the students of the course were challenged to imagine who those people were, where they were going, and what they were doing. The man and the woman from the Story Prompt section of this book were two of the characters in that video.

Mac, as I named him in my story, was the character in the video that I found most intriguing. He reminded me of the boys I grew up with in the heart of Michigan where hunting and fishing are a staple to life. Yet, here Mac was on a city bus and wearing a pink hair tie. Being a child of the 80’s in a small town, ‘hair bands’ like Poison, and Skid Row were popular. Country boys were wearing their hair long and playing air guitars, but they sure didn’t wear pink. When they did, they were prepared to take a fair amount of teasing. We live in different times now, where men’s athletic teams proudly wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness, yet a man wearing a pink hair tie probably still gets looks here and there.

It was that pink hair tie that drew this story from me. It was that itty-bitty elastic band that made me wonder who this man was. What kind of camo-wearing guy riding a bus wears a pink hair tie? Was he trying to make some sort of statement? Or was it just a weird moment of circumstance? Or did he just plain like the color pink? Where was he going? What was going to happen next?

I went back to the video and watched it again. There was Lisa, his fiancé. But why wasn’t she riding the bus with him? Where was she going? Why didn’t she have a happier look on her face? And suddenly, I knew. Mac had taken her lucky pink hair tie. This revelation led to more questions. Was Lisa going to have an unlucky day? Was Mac going to have a lucky one?

Quite often, when I write short stories, I don’t do much plotting. I start writing and let the story evolve organically based on the questions I ask myself about characters and circumstance. I started this story off with “How did Mac end up with the pink hair tie in his hair?” and once I had the first scene completed, I started doing a little plotting. By the end of the first scene, I had written that Mac was late for work, and Lisa was upset that he had her lucky hair tie. I already knew he was going to take the bus to work, so I set the scene of the story in the city. As I wrote, I discovered “luck” was going to be a theme.

I studied Psychology in college and recall a study about one of the differences between men and women. Men often attribute their success to their skills and abilities, while women tend to believe their success is grounded in luck. The memory of this study wove its way into my story when Lisa was explaining to Christy all the ways the hair tie brought her luck, including getting into college and winning a grant, and Christy’s response was that it wasn’t luck, but because Lisa is an incredible person who’s worked hard.

The real question I wanted to leave the reader with was, is Mac lucky? He’s in an unlikely accident and wounded in a horrifying way, but he’s alive.

Several readers have asked me, “Does Mac live? Won’t he have brain damage if he does? How is that lucky?” My response is, the human brain is an amazing organ. It can withstand a lot of abuse and still be fully functioning. Phineas Gage was a railroad construction foreman who survived after a large railroad spike impaled his head. This incredible ability of the brain to function after trauma, and even sometimes heal, is what drives our physicians and physical therapists to seek better and better forms of therapy for patients with brain injuries, and gives the patients’ families hope and patience. I like to believe there’s a good chance Mac survives because science and the human brain is amazing.

Thank you for reading A White Crow. I hope you will join in the discussion at Goodreads.

– Richelle

 

Alms of Freedom (an excerpt)

“Did she say something about wishes?” I asked the boy.

“Yes, she claims she sells wishes.”

“The birds?” I asked. The woman was holding a cage out toward me. “What do the people who buy them do with them?”

He shrugged. So full of words, this one. “Eat them perhaps?”

I crouched down and asked how much. The woman held out a penny and pointed to it, then pointed her finger into the cage. I dug a penny out of my pocket and she bit it, then opened the cage, chasing after a bird with her hands.

The bird was no more than a bit of downy fluff. So light, I had to open my hands a bit to make sure it was still between them. I stared into its beady eyes and thought about people eating something so small. Why would someone eat one of these tiny beautiful creatures with practically no meat on them? Was it a delicacy of some sort? I ran my thumb over its head, smoothing a feather than had been ruffled in the process of being captured and surrendered.

This one wasn’t getting eaten.

The boy was walking away. Perhaps he was disgusted that I had purchased a wish. And with that, I realized what the woman had been trying to say. When I looked back, she was smiling and lifting her hands palm up toward the sky. I smiled back and looked once more at the tiny life I held in my hands before opening them up flat. The bird hopped to my finger tip and then lifted into the air. A feather drifted lazily in the air, floating back and forth and tumbling at the mercy of some current of air I could not feel.

I started after the boy.

I hadn’t made a wish. Truthfully, I don’t quite believe wishes can be granted, or at least I don’t believe the universe will contrive to grant you wishes for giving an old woman a penny for a bird. Yet, I felt wonderful. Such a small thing to bring such joy, and maybe that was just as good.

I stopped. The boy had turned to wait for me, and he looked at me in askance with a cocked eyebrow and a tilt of his head. I held up an index finger and turned around, at the same time, digging back into my pocket.

The woman’s face brightened to see me return and she held up her cage again. I nodded and tried to signal that I wanted all the birds, saying, “Wishes. Wishes.”

She said it back and laughed and nodded as I held out a large bill to her. The boy was at my side.

“That is too much,” he said.

“Oh, no,” I replied sitting down beside the woman. “Not for these wishes.”

He stared hard at me. I think he must have thought the heat had gone to my head. Or perhaps he just wanted a better look at a looney American giving an old gypsy more than double what she asked for to send off some birds into the air.

I opened the cage. The handful of birds poured out, lifting into the air around my head, one landing on the old woman’s shoulder, and one fluttering around the boy’s face. We all laughed at the sight, and I opened the second cage. All but one exited the cage. The last, I had to poke at until it realized it was free to fly.

I thanked the woman profusely.

“What did you wish for?” he asked as we walked away.

“For them to be free.”

“That is a stupid wish.”

“Why stupid?”

“They were already free.”

“What does a 12-year old know of wishes or freedom?”

“I know things you do not.”

Richelle Renae’s Alms of Freedom is coming early April.

 

Thank you for reading A White Crow. Watch for more short stories in this series coming soon. Share your experience with the author.

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A White Crow

Mac and Lisa are a young, recently engaged couple still working out the kinks of their new relationship and coming to terms with the challenges of living together in the big city. When Mac casually borrows the one item that Lisa attributes all her success to, both their lives are dramatically affected. A White Crow explores the notion of luck and the dependency of relying on it for success. It is the first workbook published in the Read Write Ponder series, a collection of short stories constructed to engage readers, writers, and educators. Each novelette-sized book is comprised of a single short story, writing prompts to encourage creative writing, discussion questions for thoughtful analysis of characters and theme, and a letter from the author about her inspiration for the story and the techniques she used to write it.

  • ISBN: 9781370254101
  • Author: Richelle Renae
  • Published: 2017-03-17 14:35:11
  • Words: 8477
A White Crow A White Crow