I’ve started a personal challenge. One short story, not related to my WIP per week. It will be based on a writing prompt, between 2000-5000 words, and be completed in one day. No editing or rewrites(except a quick spellcheck). Critiques of content are encouraged. My week 1 prompt was this fellow here…
Gantry stood on the overlook. The sheep in the field behind him, quiet in the early morning. This was the only place on the island where the view to the sea was clear. He raised his spyglass toward the calm waters. It had been nearly five years since his family had left him with the monks. They were supposed to have returned after four. He’d received word that his sister was finally on her way.
He’d been up here every morning looking for a vessel. Today, his diligence was rewarded. The boat was merely a bobbing dot on the horizon. He closed the glass and slipped it into a pocket of his robes. The path down the mountain was long and not well maintained. He hadn’t traveled it since his arrival but, he still remembered it well. There was only a few weeks of the year that it was travelable. A few potential acolytes died each year.
It was late in the season for young potentials, but he passed a few. They took in his robes with awe. The monks on this island were legendary. He was the only one going down. The two-day journey gave him time to reflect. His elder brother had left him here just after his fifteenth birthday. They had gotten such an early start that there had been no time for goodbyes.
When he arrived at the western dock, the sun was lighting the water orange. His sister would arrive on the morning tide. He claimed one of the small cabins nearby. A few smoking chimneys and glowing windows showed a few were already occupied. He built a fire in his own and ate the small supper he’d packed.
His sister was just a year older than him. When he left she was picking among large group of suitors. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, she was kind and good-natured. They’d always had a good relationship. Unlike his brother who had turned everything into a contest.
He woke long before the sun. the dock master was looking over the manifest of a small boat that had been rowwed in overnight. Gantry looked out into the small cove. A personal boat was making its way in. It was the same kind that had carried him all those years ago. This had to be his sister. He pulled out the spyglass. He would have recognized that figure anywhere.
It took a bit before she saw him standing on the dock. Immediately she waved. Still the craft kept its unhurried pace. As it drew to the shore, workers appeared on the deck and prepared to tie up. The dock master stepped forward to receive the manifest. Gantry had seen him hold everyone on board the other vessel until the proper protocols had been followed. One look from the monk and the master stepped back.
She was in front of him as soon as the gangplank was lowered. She seemed shorter than he remembered and she smelled like their mother.
“You’re really here. You’re alright.”, she said, tears streaming down her face. She threw her arms around him. Short. She was so short.
“I missed you too.”
She stepped back but seemed reluctant to let go. We were getting looks from the dock master and the family that was saying goodbye to the boy that, had finally been allowed to get off the other boat.
“Come with me. There’s so much I need to tell you and I don’t what to do it here.”
She took my hand and pulled me up the gangplank. There was a table with chairs set up on the deck. A man was putting out food. Another man sat in one of the chairs, already having a plate in front of him.
“Gantry, this is my husband. He was the one who made this trip possible.”
I bowed as I would one of the elder monks. He had smile as warm as my sister’s. I knew she’d chosen well for herself.
“It’s no problem at all. I asked your sister where she’d like to go for the last bit of our honeymoon and she chose this.”
I turned to her.
“Honeymoon? But, you were making decisions about who to marry even before I left.”
She sank down in the chair opposite her husband. I sat in the chair between them but faced her.
“Oh Ganny. That’s what I needed to tell you. Right after you left, mother and father were killed in an accident. Our dear brother used all of the money, including what had been set aside for my marriage. It took me until now to find someone who didn’t; care about such things. And you…he told us that you were dead.”
Her husband reached across the table and handed her a handkerchief.
“Dead? Mother and father didn’t send me here? Why would he do this?”
“He found out that you were going to inherit everything. They didn’t trust him. Even after he told us that you two had snuck out and that you’d fallen into the river, father never believed him. He got rid of you, I’m certain he was responsible for our parents deaths, and he kept me as a servant.”
I’d been taught by the monks to keep calm in any situation, but this was a lot to absorb.
“How’d you find me?’
“It was the letter you sent, last year. You sent it to me, not mother and father. It was delivered to our manor.”
“Ah. Why would he bring me to the monks? Why not kill me?”
“There had been a monk in town. I remember, right before you left. He was talking about how dangerous the island was and that not many boys survived. I think that’s how he got the idea.”
I remembered that too. Our brother had mentioned the encounter. He’d told me that was how father got the idea to send me here.
The kind gentleman said, “Are reports of the danger exaggerated or did you just figure out how to survive?”
The monks’ methods and teachings were very much a secret to outsiders. As was the true nature of what we did.
“It was as deadly as the rumors have it. I made it through with a few scars.”
My sister looked me up and down. Taking in the robes.
“I don’t understand. The monks are supposed to be scholars. The one we met told us he was in town to visit the library.”
I thought for a moment.
“Do you think our brother believes the same?”
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t. Isn’t that what you are?”
“To a degree yes. But, there’s much more that I can’t reveal. When do we leave.”
She looked startled.
“You can’t come home. He’ll kill you, like he did our parents.”
Her husband reassured her, “If he is at our manor, your brother will never know that he’s back.”
“I must leave the island. I can’t complete my training until I’ve been away for a year and a day.”
She still looked doubtful, “Why?”
“I need to see what I’d be missing. If I return, it means that this is what I want. It means that I’m prepared to focus only on my training.”
The husband said, “We will leave tonight with the evening tide. Will that be enough time to gather your things?”
“I brought everything with me. My satchel is in one of the cabins. It won’t take a minute to fetch it.”
“Dear why don’t you walk with him. I’m sure you’d like to catch up some more.”
She looped her arm through mine as we followed the dirt path. She told me of life in the manor and what had become of some of my old friends. I wasn’t sure what I’d have in common with any of them now. Fitting in wasn’t part of my new life plan. I had already decided to complete my training. First though, I get vengeance for my sister and our parents.
The trip home was brief. Even late in the evening, I was unprepared for the large crowd at the harbor. The town had grown in the five years I’d spent with the same handful of monks. My sister must have noticed my discomfort. She stayed close as her husband waved down a handsome cab.
Their home overlooked a park in the wealthy area of town. Watching out the window, I only recognized bits and pieces.
“It’s a proper city now. Isn’t it?”
“It is. We had a few industries really take off and it’s brought a lot of jobs.”
“Where does our brother fit?”
“He still lives in our old house. Most of the servants left within a year of our father’s death. The rest were let go as he lost more and more money. I don’t think he meant to put me in such a bind but, he took advantage of the situation.”
“How long have you been away from him?”
“We were married last year. We waited to take our honeymoon so my husband could finish a bit of business. We also wanted to have one big trip before we started our family.”
A late supper was laid out for us at my sister’s house. The house itself was twice the size of the one we’d grown up in. It was an older home. The furniture was worn but still in good shape. My host noticed my curiosity.
“The house has been in my family for a few generations. Most recently, my grandmother lived in it. When she died I inherited it but it was a bit too big and stuffy for a young bachelor.”
Soon after, my sister and her husband retired for the evening and I was led up to my room by a very nervous housekeeper. The room was large but simple. A bed, wardrobe, desk and dresser were the only furnishings. I placed my few toiletries on the dresser. The rest of mu belongings stayed in my satchel, which I hid behind my cloak, now hanging in the wardrobe.
I woke with the sun but didn’t go down to breakfast right away. My window overlooked the park and I’d pulled out my spyglass. The park was occupied by laughing children and tired nannies. A young couple strolled by hand in hand, oblivious to everything but each other. I turned as my sister knocked at the door then stepped in.
“Is this alright? There are other rooms but this one had been freshened up recently.”
“This is fine. My room in the island wasn’t even half this size. And the furniture not nearly as nice. I guess my first step is to find other clothes.”
She looked surprised.
“Are you allowed to?”
“For the year and a day that I’m gone. I may dress as I wish. Most acolytes leave the island and can’t afford anything but their robes. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I can either.”
“Don’t worry about that. My husband has already told me to get you whatever you need.”
“He is very generous.”
“He is. He doesn’t have any family left. I think he’s pleased that I have one brother that isn’t a monster.”
I smiled. If she only knew.
“Thank him for me. I’ll do whatever I can to make friends then.”
“I glad that you said that. We do have a favor to ask.”
“What is it?”
“We are having a party tonight. We’d really like for you to come.”
“Is our brother coming.”
“He wasn’t invited but the last one we had, he showed up.”
“It must really get to him that you married so well.”
“Oh, it does. He tried to tell me that I owed him for the years that he let me live with him. My husband threw him out. If he does come, are you thinking of confronting him?”
“I wouldn’t abuse your hospitality. I will settle with him when I’m ready.”
She gave me a hug.
“Be careful. He’s dangerous and I just found you. I’ll send someone out for some clothes. Meanwhile, I had them leave you some breakfast. We ate on the porch overlooking the garden. Then, feel free to explore the house. We’ll be setting up for the party soon, but the library will be quiet.”
Breakfast was simple but the garden was in bloom and full of bird song. I found the library and it was indeed quiet. The morning passed quickly and I slowly became aware of more activity in the rest of the house. I put the book down to see about some lunch and offer my help. Before I could, my sister’s husband stepped into the room and quietly closed the door.
“Your sister is in your room with some clothes for you to try on.”
“Thank you. I was just looking to stretch my legs anyway. I’m not used to being idle.”
“I should say not. I hear life on the island is quite arduous.”
“I had a childhood friend that was sent there. He sent letters begging to come home every week. He even sent a few to me, asking to be rescued. He never went into detail but it seemed that he was being tortured.”
“Some do find the training difficult. There were even times when I found it so.”
“The thing is, this friend did come home for his year and a day, vowing to never go back. He told me of the monks’ true purpose.”
I went on guard. There were many things this acolyte could have said and I didn’t want to give anything away.
“You are welcome to stay here for as long as you want. I don’t care if you kill your brother. In fact, when I hear of the things that he put your sister through, I could have done it myself. I know she won’t be upset if you do. I only ask that whatever you do, you don’t bring trouble to us.”
“I promise that whatever happens, I will leave the two of you out of it.”
“Good. Now let’s get you to your sister.”
My sister was indeed waiting in my room. Even after so long away, I knew the girl standing next to her.
“See Amelia, I told you he wasn’t an imagination.”
“Maybe he is a specter. Perhaps I’ll have to pinch him. To make certain he is real.”
I smiled. She still took my breath away. Her sharp green eyes and serious nature brushed most the wrong way. I only saw her quick wit and wicked sense of humor as assets.
“Don’t you mean that you must pinch yourself. To make certain that I’m not a dream.”
“I believe, it is I, who would be appearing in your dreams.”
“I have spent the last five years surrounded by smelly old men and sheep. Appearing in my dreams wouldn’t be a great feat.”
She smiled at me.
“Oh, how I’ve missed you Gantry. No other boy will insult me like you do.”
“I missed you too. It’s so tiring to be charming and poetic.”
“I didn’t realize sheep liked poetry so much.”
“Oh yes. They love it, the more romantic, the better.”
My sister sighed.
“I do have other things to do right now. I am having a party in a few hours.”, She said with a smile.
“Sorry. Let’s look at those clothes.”
There were two sets, one formal and one casual. My sister watched me look them over.
“I guessed at the size. You’re so tall and thin, the pants may be too short.”
“I think they’ll be fine, but if you two could give me some privacy…”
My sister said, “Oh, of course. Come on Amelia. We’ll be having lunch when you’re ready.”
The pants and shirt fit perfectly. I put my robes in the wardrobe. I wouldn’t be needing them any time soon. I went downstairs and helped my sister with the party. Amelia had gone home to get ready.
I’d gone up to get my vest and jacket on, when the first guests arrived. I slipped quietly among the crowd. I recognized a few of the guests; none seemed to know me. My sister swooped in and saved me from listening to the dullest conversations. She led me to the area that had become a dance floor.
“It’s a shame about the robes. You’re very handsome, like father was.”
“By the end of my year, you’ll be so tired of me, you’ll be begging for me to put them back on.”
“I can’t imagine that.”
A tap at my shoulder revealed my sister’s husband and Amelia. There was a worried look on her face.
I stepped away from my sister and held a hand out to Amelia.
“Your brother just walked in. He hasn’t noticed you yet but we wanted your sister away before he did.”
I watched her track his movements from the refreshments to the seating area. He was making the rounds.
“Are you going to kill him?”
“That seems to be the question. Do you think I should?”
“He kidnapped you and tormented your sister.”
She looked at me, surprised.
“Your parents had approached mine about a marriage between you and I.”
“As soon as you were gone, he went to my father about a union.”
“My father had told me long before that he didn’t believe in selling off his only daughter. If I didn’t want to get married, I could take the money and go to school.”
“You chose school?”
“Don’t get any ideas. It wasn’t like without you, I didn’t want anyone. I just realized that I didn’t want a husband that was possibly in it, only for the money. When my father told him, there wouldn’t be a dowry…he said some pretty insulting things about my family.”
“Bad enough to see him dead?”
“Nobody respects him or his opinion, but he brought our issues into public. Even though my father is very respected, he is also very private. It brought a lot of stress to our home.”
Her eyes got big.
“Has he spotted us?”
“He has spotted me. I don’t think he’s seen who you are yet”
“Let’s fix that.”
I turned and bent down and whispered, “Laugh, as if I’d said something wicked into your ear.”
She laughed and rubbed her hand up my arm. Anyone looking our way, would certainly see it as a flirtation. I spotted him out of the corner of my eye.
“Oh, he’s noticed me now.”, I said with a warm smile.
She laughed and smiled back.
“I imagine he looks a bit shocked.”
“He’s definitely shook. I’m going to end our dance, I think maybe I’ll get some air, take whatever is coming into the garden.”
I gave her one final nod and stepped away. She smiled and melted back into the crowd. I still hadn’t acknowledged him, but I could feel my brother’s eyes on me. Grabbing a drink, I headed for the doors. He was right behind me. I leaned against the wall and took a drink.
He was not the boy I remembered. The years of stress and evil doing had etched into his face.
“I found him. After all these years. Isn’t it wonderful.”
My sister stepped out of the shadows. Her husband was at her back. My brother never took his eyes off me.
“it is. Welcome back Gantry.”
“Thank you, brother, it’s good to be home.”
“So…how…where did you find him?”
“He’s been on the isle with the monks, this whole time. He sent me a letter when the ones that he sent to mother and father weren’t answered.”
“I was shocked to learn of their passing.”
“Yes. It was a shock for all of us.”
“I am actually surprised to see you here. They said that you hadn’t been invited.”
“I just stopped by to welcome them home. I had no idea they had company.”
“Yes, I’m sure you got a big surprise tonight.”
“So, you’re staying here?”
“For now. I haven’t made any real decisions yet.”
My sister had been watching the exchange interrupted, “Gantry, you promised to be social. Come meet some of our friends.” To my brother, she said, “Can you see yourself out or did you need an escort like last time.”
His eyes blazed for a moment.
“I know where the door is.”
We watched as my brother stormed out.
“So?”, my sister asked.
“I think I’m going to have a little fun before I decide what to do with him.”
She sighed. “I wish I could advocate for him.”
I put my arm around her shoulder.
“I wish you could too.”
The house was quiet as I slipped out, later. I was wearing the dark pants and shirt but, I had pulled on my cloak. It helped me blend into the shadows as I’d made my way across town. No one paid me any mind as I watched the house that I’d spent the first fourteen years of my life in. It was seeming asleep but, I could see my brother pacing upstairs. I’d known, that he’d have moved into my parents’ bedroom. Was he expecting me or just pacing with worry? I’d soon find out.
I entered through the attic window with the broken lock. Passed, what I imagined to be everything that had been mine or my parents. I couldn’t stop. Thanks to my training, I didn’t even leave footprints.
I stopped in front of the bedroom and pulled a vial of powder from my pocket. I carefully broke it open and rolled it underneath the door. There was an exaggerated thump. My brother was indeed expecting an attack. I waited. The real thump came a few minutes later. Still, I waited for another moment. All was quiet.
He was sitting on the floor with his back against the bed. He’d kept my parents’ furniture but the personal touches that made the room theirs were gone. He looked at me as I stood over him.
“Let’s get you comfortable. It’s going to be morning before you’ll be able to move.”
I didn’t see the pistol until I’d lifted him onto the bed. He must have dropped it and then landed on it.
“You were waiting for me.”
He finally spoke. I had him lying down propped up on the pillows. He eyed me angrily.
“Obviously, I had good reason to.”
“Oh now, don’t be like that. Didn’t you miss me.”
I put the pistol well out of reach.
“If you kill me, everyone will know it was you.”
“Oh, I doubt that very much. I also doubt anyone would care enough to make an inquiry.You’ve made more than a few enemies.”
“I am going to kill you. I hadn’t decided until, just now. But I do want to have some fun with you first.”
“I should have knocked you in the head and dumped you into the sea.”
“Oh, I agree. That would have been your best move. But as much of a villain as you are, you’re still squeamish. First, dropping my off to meet my fate with the monks and then arranging an accident for our parents. Too good to get blood on your hands?”
“What about you? If you’re going to kill me, why not just do it?”
“I have plenty of blood on these hands and there will be plenty of more. Just a word of advice brother, the next time you want to get rid of an enemy, don’t leave them at a training camp for assassins.”
“I have spent the last five years of my life learning how to kill you, well, not specifically you. I hadn’t even thought about it until our sister told me all that you had done to her and our parents.”
“Please, you can’t tell me that you weren’t angry about my tricking you.”
It was time to reveal everything.
“You didn’t trick me. I knew about the inheritance. I fully expected you to kill me that night. Our sister was on the verge of marriage and you’d get everything, once mother and father were dead. It was a small sacrifice. But, you got greedy. You ruined things for our sister, kept her here. You killed mother and father…”
I leaned down and put the tip of my knife under his chin.
“For those things, you will die but first, I’m going to get the best revenge. I will become the opposite of you. I will become beloved in the social circles that you are so desperate to join. I will succeed in business. I will have what you’ve taken from others. Then I will kill you. Or, I may leave you to suffer in the gutter. For now, I will leave you like this, a taste of things to come.”
“I will kill you first.”
“I have no doubt that you will try.”
As I returned to my sister’s house, I saw the light on in another familiar window. Before I thought twice, I was knocking at it. Amelia was quite surprised to see me.
“Did you do it?”
“Not yet. I told him that I plan to ruin him first.”
“Yes. I might need your help.”
She stepped over and slid her arms around my neck. “Consider me your partner in crime.”
“I always have.”, I said, right before I leaned in to kiss her.