Today we start a serial story. It’ll publish every other Friday. Hopefully the remaining Fridays each month will be filled with author interviews. (Want to be interviewed? Leave a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
These started as writing warm-ups for me. Just something to get the juices flowing. Then I found that I was enjoying writing these more than just about anything else. The story was more interesting to me, probably because I didn’t know where it was going. Each day was an adventure. Discovering who these characters actually were was fun. And figuring out a spot to end each day’s section so it led into the next was a real challenge.
These stories don’t have an overarching title yet, so I’m just going with one of the character’s names. I hope you enjoy it.
Mai-Le sat cross-legged weaving strips of wet palm fronds into a basket, a fresh cut bleeding onto his lap. He was going over, under, over, under when he heard the first signs of them approaching. The roof of his hut shook as the aircraft passed over. Mai gathered himself and a few things and headed for the shore.
Customers. Mai placed three automatic rifles on one large flat rock and placed two grenade launchers and a handful of small grenades on another.
Two burly men with full beards and wearing tattered flannel approached with a wave and a smile.
“Hello,” the man on the left shouted.
Mai nodded his hello and readjusted the merchandise.
“What do you like?” Mai asked when the men got closer.
“Those,” the man on the left said, and pointed to the rifles.
“And those,” the other man said, pointing at the grenade launchers.
“How many do you like?” Mai asked.
“More than you have here. Can you get others?”
“More is no problem. I can do it. I have some in my shack. Give me number. I’ll get them.”
One of the men ran a hand through his tangled beard and scratched his chin.
“We’ll need at least a dozen.”
“I have a dozen.”
“And we’ll need at least a dozen grenade launchers, too,” the other man said. His hands were in his pockets.
“I have a dozen. You men wait. I’ll be back.”
Mai hurried back to his hut and called for his nephew. “Yun! Yun!”
Yun came out of a second smaller hut that was set just behind the one Mai had been using earlier.
“Get the box of guns,” Mai said, gesturing with one hand toward a third hut set next to the one Yun had come from.”
“Yes,” Mai said. “Didn’t you hear them come over?”
“No, uncle,” Yun said and grabbed his headphones that clung to his neck like a scarf. “I had these on.”
“We need nine rifles and ten grenade launchers. Help me.”
Yun entered the hut first and pulled the top off of a wooden crate. Inside were a dozen rifles. He began pulling them out, two in each hand.
“We’ll use that crate so leave nine guns in there. And add these.” Mai handed grenade launchers to his nephew.
Yun stood slumped in the low-roofed tent. He packed the box quickly. It was a sloppy job and his uncle kept sticking his hands inside, trying to adjust all the work Yun had done.
“Help me carry this,” Mai said. “I’ll get this end. You get that one.”
“I’ll get it, uncle.”
“No,” Mai said. “I’ll help you.”
“I can carry it myself,” Yun said and reached to both ends of the crate.
“Stop!” Mai said. “Put it down. I don’t want them to see that you can carry that.”
“Because they’ll want more than just the weapons.”
“What do you mean?”
The two men were near the rocks. They were watching Mai and Yun. Mai looked down the hill and waved to the two men. The man on the left waved back.
Yun put the crate on the ground and Mai hurried around to one side. He looked at his nephew and the pair picked up the weapons and slowly walked them down the rocky path to the gentlemen. Moss had started to grow and the rocks were slick from days of rain that had only stopped that morning. Mai took cautious steps. Yun didn’t proceed as gingerly. The guns rattled in the crate with each step.
Mai watched the men. The men watched Mai and Yun. The guns rattled.
Mai and Yun reached the bottom of the hill and set the crate down at the feet of the two men in flannel. Mai lifted the top and smiled. He pointed to a dozen grenades he’d put in just before they brought the crate down the hill.
“No charge,” he said. “Something for your coming all the way out here.”
Both of the men smiled and nodded their thanks.
“Too kind,” said the man on the left. “What do we owe you?”
“All of that?” Mai said. “Twenty thousand. Sound fair?”
The man on the right reached into his back pocket and pulled out a neat stack of bills that had been folded in half. He licked a dirty thumb and peeled four bills off the top. He handed them to Mai. Mai smiled and put the bills in a pocket inside his robe.
“Well, Mr. Mai,” the man on the left began, “it’s been a pleasure to do business with you. We’ll be back if we need anything else.”
“Yes, please come.”
Yun was standing behind his uncle and stepped forward when the men reached to pick up the crate. Mai tried to stop Yun as he passed, but he couldn’t. Yun reached down and put a hand on either side of the crate and lifted it like it was empty.
The two men who’d just bought the weapons looked at Yun and then each other.
“Put it down, son,” said the man on the left.
Mai hung his head.
“There’s one more thing we need,” the man said and looked at his partner. The partner took the wad of bills out of his pocket and unfolded it again. He licked his thumb and began sliding bills off the top of the stack.
“How much for the boy?” the man on the left asked.
“The boy’s not for sale.”
“Everything’s for sale.”
“Not everything. Not the boy.”
Yun just watched the conversation happen. The man on the right continued to pull bills off the stack. The bills in the pulled pile were starting to rival what was left in his original stack. He stopped and fanned the bills in his right hand out like cards. He laid them on the top of the crate.
“He’s not for sale.”
The man peeled more bills from his stack and laid them on the crate in a separate fan of cash.
Mai paused then motioned for Yun. Yun approached and Mai began to walk up the hill to his hut.
“Get your bags together,” Mai said to his nephew.
“But uncle …”
“Just do it.”
Mai opened the flap that covered the entrance to his hut. He wiped a tear from his cheek and grabbed a pencil and scrap of paper from the trunk in the corner. He closed the lid and scribbled some numbers on the paper.
He stepped back outside and waited for Yun. He heard the boy stuffing clothes into a bag. Keepsakes rattled on a desk that Yun had in his hut.
A moment later Yun came out, a green fabric bag thrown over his shoulder.
“Do you have everything?” Mai asked.
“I suppose,” Yun said. “I had to pack fast.”
“Give me your hand.”
Yun put out his right hand and Mai pushed the paper he’d scribbled on into his nephew’s palm. Yun opened the paper.
“Keep it in a safe place. It’s important.”
“It looks like just a bunch of numbers.”
“Just keep it safe. It’s coordinates to help get you home.”
“I know how to get home, uncle.”
“Not from where they are taking you.”